Disabled to pay for parking

The Galleries car park
The Galleries car park

CASH-STRAPPED council chiefs are planning to axe staff at two town centre car parks and automate their operation.

The move will also mean major changes for blue badge holders who would have no concession in The Galleries or Water Street.

And in a further blow, town hall chiefs are also considering scrapping the disabled concessions at the town’s pay and display car parks. Instead, they would be given a free two-hour concession to use there on top of their ticket purchase as an acknowledgement that disabled people need longer to get around to do their shopping than the able-bodied.

Blue badge rights to use marked on-street disabled spaces for free will continue, although it would be limited to three hours.

The move to automate the two car parks is expected to save around £80,000 a year and the changes could be introduced as early as February 2012.

In a report, council corporate director of places Gillian Bishop said that a recent survey of on-street pay and display bays in Wigan revealed that 62 per cent of the spaces were used by vehicles displaying a blue badge as they provided more convenient and easier access to the shops and services.

She said: “A blue badge can be issued to those who have mobility difficulties and are no reflection on the holder’s ability to pay parking charges.

“Indeed Wigan Access Committee for the Disabled have indicated that, on average, disabled people have as much disposable income as other members of the public.”

Coun deputy leader Coun David Molyneux said that comments about the officer’s report should be made at the appropriate council and overview and scrutiny committees.

But the proposals were attacked by a disabled motorists’ charity and the leader of the opposition on Wigan Council.

Director of Policy for campaigning group Disabled Motoring UK Helen Dolphin said: “Some councils, such as Norwich and Lincoln, have been forced to change their policy of charging everyone the same when challenged under the Equality Act but I think by offering badge holders two hours free Wigan will avoid any legal action.

“My concern is whether they have considered the needs of disabled drivers who cannot use parking payment machines such as double arm amputees, some people with cerebral palsy or arthritis.

“Just because a payment machine is at a height suitable for wheelchair users does not mean all disabled people can use it, even though they are quite able to drive independently.

“I am also concerned that this change in parking policy will drive badge holders onto the road to park where they can still park free for up to three hours.

“It is far more dangerous for disabled people to unload mobility equipment on the road than in the safety of a car park.

Metro independent group chief Coun Gary Wilkes said: “Charging blue badge holders is the thin end of the wedge in my view, once we accept this there’s no turning back.”

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