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Gabe’s Law seeks to prevent avoidable deaths in car parks

Maria Eagle MP proposes law to prevent deaths by falling from car park

Mark Moran
13 March 2023
Maria Eagle MP introduces her Bill at Parliament
Gabriel Santer
Gabriel Santer

 

New legislation calling for reforms to prevent falls from car parks has been presented in Parliament. The Multi-Storey Car Parks (Safety) Bill proposed by Maria Eagle MP under the Ten Minute Rule would increase the minimum required height of guarding in new and existing multi-storey car parks as well as requiring 24-hour staffing of multi-storeys.

The MP has dubbed her proposed legislation ‘Gabe’s Law’ in memory of Gabriel Santer, a 15-year-old schoolboy who died after falling from the top of a multi-storey car park in Liverpool city centre in October 2020.

Eagle said her Bill would save lives and stop other families experiencing the pain that the Santer family is feeling. Introducing the proposed legislation on 28 February, the Labour MP for Garston and Halewood said: “Gabe’s father, my constituent Johnny Santer, is determined to ensure that Gabe’s death will not be in vain. He wants to make sure that no other person finds it so shockingly easily possible to fall or jump from an open-roofed multi-storey car park, and I want to help him achieve that aim.”

Eagle told the House of Commons: “After Gabriel’s father came to see me following Gabriel’s inquest, I was shocked to discover that the building regulations’ requirements for the height of barriers set a minimum height for guarding the rooftop of only 1.1 metres, or just around 3 feet. That is too low to stop anyone from accidentally falling, and it is certainly too low to stop anyone who is determined to jump.

“Multi-storey car parks must be attractive to those seeking to take their own life. They are easily accessible; one can reach the top floor easily, without needing to explain one’s presence; they are generally unstaffed, so there is unlikely to be anybody asking, ‘What’s going on?’; and the barriers only have to be 3 feet high to meet the requirements set out in the building regulations. In addition, such low barriers make it easy to fall accidentally in certain circumstances.”

Eagle also said it is unclear how many people die after falling from car parks, but noted newspaper reports showed there were at least 17 deaths in England in a 12-month period during 2022.

Responding to the reading of the Bill, Johnny Santer said: “Gabe’s life was tragically cut short by a fall from an open roof multi-storey car park. Nothing will ever be the same again. I support this Bill because Gabe’s death could have been prevented. It’s clear these wholly inadequate current building regulations must be overhauled and I know that other families across the country will be impacted by this too. I implore the government to pass Gabe’s Law so that no other family, friend, or someone in the wider community is impacted by this again. If under current legislation car park owners will not use best practice voluntarily, then we have to enforce the law to do that for them.”

The Multi-Storey Car Parks (Safety) Bill is scheduled to receive a second reading on 17 March, but is unlikely to become law in its current form due to a lack of parliamentary time. However, the MP and the Santer family hope that the Bill will inspire central government, local authorities and the parking sector to make changes to how car parks are designed and operated.

An early indication that change could happen is has been seen in Gabriel’s home town. Liverpool City Council has voted to carry out local authority inspection of multi storey sites across the city.

The car park in Liverpool from which Gabriel Santer fell is operated by Q-Park. It has expressed sympathy with the grief of the Santer family and says it is sympathetic to the aims of its campaign to improve car park safety. However, the company says there a number of inaccuracies in the statements made by Maria Eagle MP. The operator said it would welcome a dialogue about car park safety via the British Parking Association (BPA), which has said it is willing to work with Maria Eagle on finding ways of reducing risks to people in car parks.

Q-Park: ‘We take safety extremely seriously’

Q-Park says car park outperformed regulations

“The death of Gabriel Santer is a tragedy and we are deeply sorry for their loss and have expressed this to the Santer family directly. We take safety at our sites extremely seriously, which is why the Hanover Street car park outperformed required building regulations. Additionally, an independent panel has determined no wrongdoing on the part of Q-Park in these tragic circumstances.

“Whilst we are understanding and sympathetic with the motivations behind proposals for further safeguarding of high level structures, we regret that several inaccuracies are being put forward in Parliament about Q-Park that undermine these good intentions.

“The British Parking Association represents the industry and will, we are sure, welcome constructive and genuine dialogue with Parliamentarians and all interested parties.”

BPA calls for partnership working

British Parking Association wants to work with Maria Eagle MP

The British Parking Association says it is following the Multi-Storey Car Parks (Safety) Bill by Maria Eagle MP. The association has offered to work with the MP because it supports the essence of her Bill, known as ‘Gabe’s Law’.

The BPA said it is already actively working with government in the wider review of Building Regulations and has published advice and guidance to members on preventing falls from multi-storey parking facilities.

Kelvin Reynolds, BPA chief technical services and governance officer said, “We regularly engage with government about the building regulations associated with the design and building of car parks. All of Britain’s car parks are designed with safety of the users and their vehicles in mind.

“Occasionally, it’s not clear why people have fallen from a car park. Sadly, across the entire parking sector, suicides or attempted suicides arise from time-to-time. This is why we publish advice and guidance to our members on the risks and management of suicide in parking facilities. We will continue to do this in partnership with the authorities and agencies who have relevant expertise and experience.

“We agree everything that can reasonably be done to minimise the risks should be done and that is why are keen to work with Maria Eagle MP as she promotes her Bill.”

Liverpool backs Gabe’s Law

Gabriel Santer’s home town supports reform

Councillors in Liverpool have voted in favour of the city council inspecting the safety of car parks in the wake of the death of teenager Gabriel Santer, who died after falling from the Q-Park on Hanover Street in 2020. Gabriel’s father, Johnny Santer, believes future deaths could be prevented if there is a change both the way in which multi-storey car parks are designed and operated. His campaign has inspired Maria Eagle MP to introduce the Multi-Storey Car Parks (Safety) Bill to Parliament that would be known as ‘Gabe’s Law’ in memory of the 15-year-old.

Santer set out the ambitions for Gabe’s Law at a meeting of the full council on 25 January. His address was followed by a motion, submitted by Cllr Tom Cardwell, that asked the council to note Gabriel’s “tragic and avoidable death” and express its condolences to the Santer family.

The motion called on the council to request officers to undertake an inspection of all multi-storey car parks using existing statutory powers to assess the scale of any potential issues within the remit of Liverpool Council. The motion also notes that while the operator of the Hanover Street retrofitted the affected area of the car park with a much safer rail, it only covered the part of the facility where the tragedy happened.

The motion stated: “They (the operator) have to date failed to assist the Santer family in their understandable desire to answer as many questions as possible about events leading up to this tragic incident, choosing instead to appoint a major international law firm for the family to communicate with. This effectively ensures that not only are the Santer family’s questions unanswered but also the lessons we should learn from this tragedy remain unlearnt and the avoidable deaths of the future are not stopped.”

Cllr Cardwell said through the motion he hoped the council would also write to the Building Regulations Advisory Committee asking that they intervene with the operators of multi-storey car parks across the country to ensure that all the information available is shared to inform the work being done to change regulations and prevent avoidable deaths in future.

The councillors unanimously backed a call on the city mayor and cabinet to:

  • Request officers undertake an inspection all multi-storey car parks using existing statutory powers to assess the scale of any potential issues within the remit of Liverpool City Council.
  • Write a letter of support for the Ten Minute Rule Bill, Gabe’s Law, The Multi-Storey Car Park (Safety) Bill, being brought before Parliament by Maria Eagle MP.
  • Write to Secretary of State Michael Gove asking that the government support the Gabe’s Law Bill.
  • Write to the Building Regulations Advisory Committee asking that they intervene with the operators of multi-storey car parks in the UK to ensure that all the information available is shared to inform the work being done to change regulations and prevent avoidable deaths in future.
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