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Haverhill town centre car parks described as 'unfit' for wheelchair users and High Street traffic ban 'discriminatory'




A leading figure in Haverhill’s business community and a town and district councillor have delivered a damning indictment of the suitability of the town centre car parks – and access to them – for wheelchair users.

Both Paul Donno, owner of One Accounts and a former chair of Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, and Cllr Pat Hanlon, labelled the recent closure of the High Street to all vehicles as ‘discriminatory’ to the disabled and called for the restriction to end.

As of Wednesday last week, the High Street has been closed between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Friday, to all vehicles as part of measures to make the town centre safer during the Covid-19 pandemic and to help prevent the virus spreading.

Paul Donno watches Cllr Pat Hanlon use the ramp from the High Street to the arts centre car park while in a wheelchair. Picture by Mark Westley.
Paul Donno watches Cllr Pat Hanlon use the ramp from the High Street to the arts centre car park while in a wheelchair. Picture by Mark Westley.

But on Monday, at the request of Mr Donno, Cllr Hanlon used a wheelchair to go from the High Street to the arts centre car park to see for himself the issues facing wheelchair users.

Mr Donno was motivated in his actions by his own daughter Katie, 21, who uses a wheelchair, and was, he said ‘outraged by the decision to pedestrianise the High Street’.

He added: “I think they (West Suffolk Council) need to police the town centre properly for the illegal parking and allow blue badge holders to have access to the town centre to park because none of the car parks in the town that the council own is fit for purpose if you are a wheelchair user or even if you are unsteady on your feet.

Cllr Pat Hanlon shows how someone in a wheelchair would be unable to reach the ticket machine to pay at the car park behind Haverhill Arts Centre. Picture by Mark Westley
Cllr Pat Hanlon shows how someone in a wheelchair would be unable to reach the ticket machine to pay at the car park behind Haverhill Arts Centre. Picture by Mark Westley

“All are on steep slopes and, as Pat found out, he struggled to get down a hill and that was freewheeling.

“The ticket machines have to accessible for height. There are machines that are accessible for height but they are not very well labelled and they are dangerous to get to.

“The only car park that is well laid out for disabled people with a small machine next to the disabled parking area that’s well marked out is the one next to the council offices (in Lower Downs Slade) but you are immediately going down a very steep hill to Queen Street.

Cllr Pat Hanlon at two of the parking bays used by disabled drivers at the car park behind Haverhill Arts Centre. Picture by Mark Westley
Cllr Pat Hanlon at two of the parking bays used by disabled drivers at the car park behind Haverhill Arts Centre. Picture by Mark Westley

“It’s not been thought out from a disabled person’s point of view.”

Cllr Hanlon said the whole experience of being in a wheelchair and trying to access the arts centre car park from the High Street and use the ticket machines was a real “eye opener”.

He said: “I went to the disabled bays nearest to Duddery Hill.

Cllr Pat Hanlon, in the wheelchair, with Paul Donno in Haverhill High Street. Picture by Mark Westley
Cllr Pat Hanlon, in the wheelchair, with Paul Donno in Haverhill High Street. Picture by Mark Westley

“There were no signs to where the disabled car park ticket machines are so I tried the nearest one, came to a step in front of the machine and I tried from a sitting position to reach the machine and I couldn’t reach to pay or use my card or reach the buttons.

“I was next riding round against the traffic of cars and found the disabled machine by the slope leading to the High Street then back to the car.

“I next went down the slope had to negotiate round a salt box (good job I had a very expensive thinly fitted wheelchair) got to the straight slope towards the High Street, thankfully having gloves on I could stop it going too fast and burning my hands, but when I did stop it the tyres where skidding and the wheelchair kept moving.

“I was so hot in using my energy in holding the chair back. I couldn’t go back up the slope and neither could the person that used the wheelchair.

“This was really an eye-opener for us that are more able.

“All the other car parks in Haverhill have the same problem.

“I feel that Haverhill has a special case when it opens up again because of social distancing and the High Street must have electronic rising bollards with keys for the disabled because at the moment it’s a free-for-all with the disabled finding it hard to park. This is discriminatory against these people.

“The High Street must be opened for the people in wheelchairs only while this social distancing is in force as I feel the council is being also discriminatory against them.

“All car park ticket machine must be lowered and one machine be next to all disabled parking spaces.”

A spokesperson for West Suffolk Council, which operates public car parks in Haverhill, said: “We would be pleased to meet with this resident to understand the issues they are facing and to see what options there may be to help.

“We work with disability groups to make sure our car parks can be used safely by wheelchair and other users with disabilities, and blue badge holders receive twice the time on the ticket to accommodate mobility issues.

“All the car parks hold ParkMark status which includes accessibility and is awarded after regular and independent inspection.

“The temporary restriction of access to the High Street aims to make the town centre a safer place to visit during the current epidemic.

“The restriction is under constant review, and access is still possible before 10am and after 4pm.”


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