What was Cllr Samantha Dixon (Chester West and Chester Leader)’s response to criticism over disabled parking problems in Chester?
Well it seems to be the Rt Hon Frank Field MP’s lucky day as he has two mentions on this blog. It’s time for an update to Isn’t it time the barriers in local government were removed for disabled people?
However first a recap of the story so far (Wirral councillors and officers can breathe a sigh of relief as this story is about Cheshire West and Chester Council).
Cheshire West and Chester Council spent hundreds of thousands of pounds with a company to put barriers up at its car parks (albeit it this was a decision made by a previous administration). Councillors were at the time assured by officers that the issue of Blue Badge holders/disabled drivers would be thought through. The operation of these car parks however wasn’t outsourced and remains controlled by Cheshire West and Chester Council.
As far as I can tell from the 30th November 2015 last year barriers were introduced at a number of their car parks. Cheshire West and Chester insisted that Blue Badge users (but only those issued by Cheshire West and Chester) could apply for a special microchip to go in and out of the car parks controlled by a barrier. However even Cheshire West and Chester residents with a Blue Badge have to wait a month for a microchip.
Just before Christmas my wife (who is a Blue Badge user) visited one of these car parks to get that traditional Cheshire welcome of (and I paraphrase), "this is a local car park for local blue badge users, now go away".
So I complained and you can read Isn’t it time the barriers in local government were removed for disabled people? for a copy of what I wrote.
Yesterday I received a reply back from the Labour Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Cllr Samantha Dixon. I’m sure the Labour Party is aware what I do for a living, which perhaps explains why as a non-Cheshire West and Chester resident I received a reply. The car park (one of many in Chester) in question is also in the ward that the Leader of Chester West and Chester Council represents.
It’s a matter of public interest, so in the interests of hearing both sides I am publishing her reply here (and my response). As I was writing this blog post, I received a copy of the traffic regulation order and public notice too, so those are included at the end.
Dear Mr Brace
I refer to your e-mail of 21st December to the Rt. Honourable Frank Field MP and copied to a number of Cheshire West Councillors. As your e-mail is about parking in Chester city centre, I am able to provide a response to the Blue Badge parking issues you raise.
You are correct that there is a national Blue Badge scheme, details of which are set out in the Department for Transport booklet entitled "The Blue Badge scheme: rights and responsibilities in England." Under the scheme, Blue Badge holders can park close to their destination, either as a passenger or driver, but the scheme is intended for on-street parking only (please refer to pages 6 and 17 of the booklet). Where a time restriction applies, a parking clock must also be displayed as the concession is limited to a maximum stay of three hours.
Many councils, but not all, also allow Blue Badge holders to park in their car parks for three hours free of charge, but in Cheshire West, four hours free parking is available in the Council’s pay and display car parks. In some council areas, charges apply to Blue Badge holders from the point of arrival in local authority car parks. Spaces for Blue Badge holders must be provided in all car parks whether or not charges apply.
This Council is in the process of converting a number of its car parks in Chester city centre from pay and display to ‘pay on foot’ or ‘pay on exit’ systems in order to be able to manage the car parks more efficiently and to increase the flexibility of payment methods. Where ‘pay on foot’ systems are introduced, it is normally the case that free parking for Blue Badge holders is removed altogether. The Council has, however, introduced a system for borough residents who are Blue Badge holders to apply for a microchip sticker which allows four hours free parking in most car parks affected by the changes, effectively making them permit holders for the car parks in question.
Badge holders who reside outside the borough are able to continue to park for four hours free of charge in Frodsham Street and Hamilton Place car parks, both of which are located in the heart of the city and are for the exclusive use of Blue Badge holders during the day (8am to 6pm). Of these, Frodsham Street (postcode: CH1 3JJ) is the larger car park, providing 80 spaces. I can understand that the directions from Lower Watergate Street seemed quite complicated when communicated via the intercom, but I can reassure you that access to Frodsham Street car park is straightforward. There is also plentiful on-street parking for Blue Badge holders throughout the city centre.
The Council published a notice in local newspapers detailing all the impending changes on 11th June 2015 and the information also appears on the Council‘s website. The signage in the car parks is being replaced as each site is converted and no longer refers to free Blue Badge parking. In light of your comments, we will, however, review the information on the signage to see if it can be improved.
I note your comments about the ticket barriers at Chester Station. We are advised the station is managed by Arriva Trains Wales and that if you send details of your request to the company at: email@example.com, they will be pleased to look into it.
I am sorry that you experienced inconvenience on your recent visit and I hope this information is helpful for the future.
Councillor Samantha Dixon
Leader of the Council
Councillor for Chester City Ward (Labour)
Cheshire West and Chester Council
Tel: 01244 972868
Mobile: 07768 177238
Here is my response.
Dear Cllr Dixon,
Thank you for that comprehensive reply to my original message.
I have read your reply to my wife and she has agreed that I should send this response on her behalf. I have also made a Freedom of Information request for the traffic regulation order that relates to the Lower Watergate Street car park. As you will no doubt be aware there are regulations that apply to the traffic regulation orders that apply to this sort of off street parking and at least one of these makes explicit reference to blue badge users.
Thank you for your suggestion to contact Arriva Trains Wales about Chester train station, I already have, but am still awaiting a reply.
I also realise that the decision to go out to tender for the changes to the car park system in Chester was made by a previous administration before the Labour administration took over in May. A company then supplied the barriers/intercom system whereas the operation of this parking system is controlled by Chester West and Chester Council employees.
As you (or if not you your CWAC officers) will no doubt be aware Chester West and Chester Council employees have the ability to check the validity of any blue badge (whether issued in Chester West and Chester or not).
I fear that anything I write beyond this will become somewhat technical and may only make sense to CWAC’s Monitoring Officer/ whichever solicitor at CWAC deals with traffic matters or traffic officers at CWAC. I therefore apologise in advance if I getting technical.
Firstly you haven’t outright stated if the traffic regulation orders relating to the car park in question and the other car parks that this applies to have been changed. It is possible that the notice in the paper you refer to was part of the public consultation on such changes. If so, this hasn’t made clear.
However in order for changes to be approved traffic regulation orders still need to be lawful and comply with the regulations (even for off street parking).
You have stated that accommodation has been made for Chester West and Chester residents with a blue badge to exit and enter the car parks to which the changes have been made.
However the legislation makes no distinction between blue badge users based on the public body that issued the blue badge, so either:
a) the traffic regulation order at Lower Watergate Street still refers to blue badge users and you are preventing non-CWAC issued blue badge users from parking there (when CWAC has the ability to check all blue badges) and/or
b) you are discriminating against some disabled drivers (who do not have a CWAC issued blue badge) whilst allowing CWAC issued blue badge users to park there
You refer to other nearby car parks that Blue Badge users (where the Blue Badge is not issued by CWAC) can use. I presume you regard this as a "reasonable adjustment".
However the issue is the provision of a service by Chester West and Chester Council at the Lower Watergate Street car park.
Essentially the provision of car parking at other nearby car parks is not entirely relevant (although I realise a number of other car parks have been switched to the same barrier system).
I realise you point out that Blue Badge users not issued by CWAC can park on single and double yellow lines elsewhere in Chester. However I’m sure you and I both know how gridlocked traffic can be in Chester city centre (especially on race days). From a traffic management perspective are you seriously suggesting that blue badge users (not issued by CWAC) should park in such a way that will effectively bring traffic to a crawl?
However the problem is that traffic in this off-street car park is covered by a traffic regulation order.
Therefore the The Local Authorities’ Traffic Orders (Exemptions for Disabled Persons) (England) Regulations 2000 applies to whichever traffic regulation order covers this car park.
Regulation 6 of those regulations states:
Exemption in favour of vehicles displaying disabled person’s badges
6.—(1) The following provisions of these Regulations have effect for requiring local authorities to include, in orders to which these Regulations apply, exemptions in favour of a vehicle displaying a disabled person’s badge.
(2) Any exemption from a provision which these Regulations require to be included in an order may be limited to vehicles of the same class as those to which the provision applies.
So therefore my point is you can’t treat blue badge users issued by CWAC differently to other blue badge users in CWAC car parks. The point about booklets and everything else is therefore irrelevant.
I am therefore copying in the Monitoring Officer at CWAC Vanessa Whiting in this response and requesting that she (as is her legal duty) follow the procedure in s.5A of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 to both:
a) write a report which will be sent to all councillors at CWAC and
b) try and remedy this situation
As I sadly have had a lot of professional contact with various local authority monitoring officers, I hope I will be pleasantly surprised and Vanessa Whiting will remedy a situation that shouldn’t have happened in the first place and that this matter will not require further measures.
And in another interesting development, whilst writing this blog post, Chester West and Chester have responded to the FOI request (considered under the Environmental Information Regulations) for a copy of the traffic regulation order and have also supplied the public notice advertising the changes.
Here is a link to the public notice (which is a variation to the original traffic regulation order) and a link to the traffic regulation order.
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