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Posted by: John Brace | 23rd December 2015

Isn’t it time the barriers in local government were removed for disabled people?

Isn’t it time the barriers in local government were removed for disabled people?

                                                              

Birkenhead North Railway Station Park and Ride

Birkenhead North Railway Station Park and Ride

Although the above is not a photo of the car park mentioned below, the photo is merely to illustrate that it’s about car parking

If anyone wonders if I still do casework, I do (just a lot less than I used to). The below is casework for Leonora (although I feel strongly about it myself). She’s my wife so I’ll declare an interest now. She’s also involved in this blog too. She’s given me permission to publish it as it may be of wider interest to readers of this blog. A few typographical errors in my original email (such as Arriva Train Wales to Arriva Trains Wales) have been corrected in the version below.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP is our MP here in Birkenhead, Justin Tomlinson MP is the Minister for Disabled People, the car park is in Cllr Dixon’s ward, the reason it’s going to the two Cabinet Members should be self-explanatory, although outside of the Merseytravel area, Merseyrail trains stop at Chester and Arriva Trains Wales run Chester station. I’ve no idea what the transport authority is for this region (do any readers know)?

So far I’ve received one reply back from the personal assistant to Cllr Samantha Dixon (she has a personal assistant as she’s Leader of Chester West and Chester Council) and a bilingual reply in English & Welsh from Arriva Trains Wales.

However it’s only been two days so far and Christmas will no doubt affect how long messages take to return.


Subject: casework (public transport/equality issues in the Chester area) REF: LB

Circulation list:

CC: “Rt Hon Frank Field MP (MP for Birkenhead)”
CC: “Justin Tomlinson MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Disabled People)”
CC: “Councillor Louise Gittins (Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Wellbeing (Chester West and Chester))”
CC: “Councillor David Armstrong (Cabinet Member for Legal and Finance (Chester West and Chester))”
CC: “Cllr Liam Robinson (Chair, Merseytravel)” CC: “Councillor Samantha Dixon (councillor for Chester City ward)”
CC: “Arriva Trains Wales”
BCC: Leonora Brace

Dear All,

I have been asked by my wife Leonora Brace to write to you on her behalf. If you wish to reply to her via post rather than email her address is Jenmaleo, 134 Boundary Road, Bidston, Wirral, CH43 7PH.

On the morning of Saturday 19th December 2015 we both visited the City of Chester.

To explain why we took the car I would like to make some general comments about Chester Railway Station first. We have tried travelling to Chester by train using our Merseytravel issued public transport passes, but unfortunately she cannot go through the ticket barrier as she has a walking stick and she has to use the side barrier. As the side barrier is for passengers travelling in both directions, sadly she has suffered many accidents in the past (for instance wheeled suitcases going over her foot from passengers coming the other way) causing her injuries.

So to avoid these safety issues, this is why I suggested we travel to Chester by car.

We used to travel to Chester using the Park and Ride outside of the City, but the Park and Ride bus driver stopped accepting our Merseytravel passes, so we stopped using the Park and Ride.

However, hopefully the above explains why despite our best efforts, problems with the public transport system in the Chester area meant in my view travelling by car on Saturday morning was the only reasonable option.

I had better point out at this stage that Leonora is issued with a Blue Badge by Wirral Council and as you can guess from the above comments has limited mobility.

I might point out that although the Blue Badge Scheme is administered locally by local councils, it is an international scheme, following legislation that applies throughout England therefore there is supposed to be some consistency across different areas.

We travelled to the Chester West and Chester car park on New Crane Street opposite Chester Racecourse.

On previous visits, she has just driven into the car park, displayed her Blue Badge and clock and there have been no problems.

This time however a barrier had been erected at the entrance to the car park.

From the passenger side the writing on the machine by the barrier was too far away to read and indeed Leonora tells me that it was impossible for her to read even on the driver’s side.

So I got out of the car, walked round to the machine and tried to understand the instructions. Despite having a university-level education I didn’t see anything referring to Blue Badge users, but there were instructions to press the intercom for assistance which I did.

I explained to the disembodied voice what the problem was and explained that we had a Blue Badge.

The disembodied voice asked if the Blue Badge had been issued by Chester West and Chester Council. Obviously as we don’t live in Chester West and Chester Council’s area, it was not and was issued by neighbouring Wirral Council.

The voice then said that if our Blue Badge wasn’t issued by Chester West and Chester Council then we couldn’t park there! I was amazed at how parochial this was! After all people with Blue Badges issued by Chester West and Chester Council are welcome to park in any Wirral Council car park! It didn’t seem fair.

I then had to explain what the disembodied voice had said to my wife (who hadn’t heard what he said due to hearing difficulties).

I asked the disembodied voice if there were car parks we could use our Blue Badge in, he said the nearest one was Frodsham Street and gave long and complicated directions.

Eventually we parked in one of the the disabled spaces at the car at the junction of Grosvenor Road/Castle Drive on the other side of Chester Racecourse. Despite my wife driving for a living as a paramedic the spaces there are badly designed and very difficult to get in and out of. Exiting such spaces you then have to go the wrong way round a one-way system, in our case delaying a coach entering the car park (otherwise we’re back to the barrier problem I mentioned earlier).

I might point out that this car park is so far away from the City Centre that we ended up not spending any money in Chester’s shops (the shops that financially support Chester West and Chester Council’s running of the cark parks through business rates).

I fully appreciate the need to combat climate change and if it wasn’t for the problems I outlined earlier I would happily travel to Chester by public transport without the need for having to interact with its arcane bureacracy.

I hope this was a one-off and a mistake and would like to say how much my wife and I enjoy our visits to Chester, however the following questions arise that I would appreciate a formal response to them.

1. Were we incorrectly informed about whether those with Blue Badges issued to those who live outside the Chester and West Council area can park in the New Crane Street car park opposite Chester racecourse and if so what are the arrangements for getting through the barrier? If a mistake was made will you apologise to Leonora?

2. Are you actively trying to deter people from doing travelling to Chester and spending money there? I noticed on previous visits the car parks were nearly full, however since the barriers have been put up they’re nearly empty. Is this part of Chester’s efforts to combat climate change and encourage greater use of public transport?

3. Why doesn’t the Park and Ride bus accept the passes issued to the elderly or disabled that can be used on all other buses in England? Surely this would be an extra source of income, therefore reducing the need for any taxpayer subsidy (if that is the case) and improving the financial sustainability of the service?

4. Why the distinction between Blue Badges issued to residents in the Chester West and Chester Council area and Blue Badges issued to residents outside Chester? Doesn’t it make little sense that a Wirral issued blue badge will be accepted in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Guernsey, Iceland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland but apparently not Chester (which last time I checked was still part of the United Kingdom despite all the talk of an IN/OUT referendum)?

5. Bearing in mind my comments (and whereas I realise when it is busy a one-way system in in effect at Chester Railway Station), have you considered modifying the ticket barriers to have a side barrier on the left in addition to the one on the right? This would seem to reduce the chance of passengers colliding with each other.

6. Was there a consultation I missed on the car park changes? If so could you provide a link to the decision/report please about this?

7. There are a whole range of legal implications this raises (both national legislation and European level) and have these been properly thought through? I could probably write a further 2,000 words just on those alone.

Protected minorities being treated in this way has the potential to cause great upset (indeed that is why discrimination is unlawful) and there are times (as I’m sure we may not be the only people affected by these matters) that the public do not have the time, press and/or political connections or indeed understanding of this country’s politico-legal systems to make their voice heard. Before the above was implemented (such as the retrofitting of ticket barriers at Chester Railway Station and the barriers on the car parks) some thought should’ve been had as to the implications on society.

I look forward to reading your responses with interest. I sincerely hope that this was a one-off mistake caused by a misunderstanding, but look forward to reading your views and either proposals for changing the above problems or reasons why they cannot be changed.

Yours sincerely,

John Brace on behalf of Leonora Brace
and John Brace

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Responses

  1. The representative bodies for people with disabilities and the motoring organisations should tackle this issue as it seems local authorities and politicians are either too stupid or reluctant to deal with the issue. Parking operators and their staff are also ignorant of blue badge requirements,deliberately to their benefit especially when it comes to issuing Penalty Charge Notices. Their mantra seems to be ‘lack of information and ignorance makes us money’!

    • I agree with you.

      I know of at least one Blue Badge holder who displayed their Blue Badge but still got a penalty charge notice.

      Then when the penalty charge notice was overturned, they add a line along the lines of “well, we cancelled it this time but don’t expect us to do this again!”

  2. That was one sweet letter John, i wish i could write like that,
    Merry xmas to you and your wife

    • Thanks, Leonora and I wish you happy Christmas too.

  3. Have a lovely Christmas John and, if it’s at all possible, and let’s face it it’s unlikely, you and Leonora have a happy New Year. Rob.


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