Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Pricebusters decision is a set back for disability access

On 17th October the licensing sub-committee over-ruled the ward councillors’ objections to the Wallington Pricebusters street trading licence on the basis that in the absence of a borough wide policy it could not apply a disability access policy to individual areas.

After the boost given to disability issues by the enormous success of the recent Paralympics this was very disappointing. The purpose of the Wallington High Street improvements had been to improve the area for pedestrians and people with disabilities. We had been very pleased to receive a letter from Orchard Hill College, in the town centre, praising the refurbishment and how it made it easier for their students to get out and about.

Our objection was because we had received complaints from residents; the owner hadn’t sought permission before trading from the pavement; and we had knowledge of reports prepared by the Disability Access Group for Scill, which highlighted that goods which over spilled onto the street presented a problem for people with visual impairments, which meant that the situation undermined the disability-friendly aims of the revamp.

Scill Access Group representatives Wayne Neumann and Nicky Davies attended the licence appeal hearing and explained how some blind people tended to keep close to buildings to guide them around an area, whilst others walked down the centre of the pavement sweeping with their stick. Uncontrolled goods on the pavement could be a problem in both circumstances, but particularly for blind people who feel safer close to buildings. On the advice of Scill we put forward a compromise of having the goods contained by a barrier at each end, in the same way that the cafes were required to enclose their pavement tables, thus providing a ‘tap rail’ as a warning for the visually impaired. However this option was not considered necessary by the committee.

It was also disappointing that Councillor Tim Crowley, who represented the owner of the Pricebusters shop, tried to use the argument that we were anti-business, as a means of side-stepping the issue of the needs of people with disabilities. As Scill had demonstrated on a visit, Mr Suleyman’s shop was already completely inaccessible for wheelchair users.

The refurbishment works to Wallington secured by the efforts of the ward councillors were a significant investment to ensure the viability of the area as a local shopping centre and increase its attractiveness and accessibility for shoppers, which is to the  direct benefit of local businesses.

Sadly too often seeking to ensure people with disabilities are not excluded from the same opportunities to participate as the able bodied is described as too expensive and anti-business. We have been very pleased to work with The Scill Access Group members who highlight the issues faced by people with disabilities, but who are always keen to help find practical and pragmatic solutions to problems.

In this case we felt that the minor impact on a business of requiring it to display its goods in the window rather than on the street was not too onerous, particularly given the popularity of the store, when compared with the impact on people with visual impairments, who find themselves housebound and afraid to use public spaces for fear of obstacles and accidents. Our compromise option was even less onerous. I was particularly upset by the shopowner’s comment to me that he shouldn’t have to take account of the impact on blind people because ‘there weren’t many of them’.

However we know that over spilling goods are just one impediment to the visually impaired, and there are other issues that we can and will be addressing.

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October 26, 2012 - Posted by | Information | , ,

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