Brentwood High Street closure discriminated against disabled people

Disabled people have been forced to walk an extra 250m after a “glib” decision to ban disabled drivers from Brentwood High Street.

A section of Brentwood High Street was closed to private traffic to enable safer social distancing in the town centre over the weekend.

Retailers put forward the idea of an interim closure to vehicles, with just buses and cycling allowed, in a bid to give a much-needed boost to the shops now they are free to reopen.

Essex County Council (ECC) and Brentwood Borough Council have worked together on the plans which not only affect Brentwood High Street but Ingatestone too.

Only cyclists, buses and delivery drivers are allowed through a section of the High Street, while the speed limit on parts of Ingatestone High Street have been lowered to 20mph.

The changes are being paid for by the government as part of national work to re-open town centres safely.

But disabled campaigner and Brentwood councillor Karen Chilvers was left furious by the decision to ban disabled cars as well.

The alternative blue badge spaces in St Thomas Road are about 250 metres from the 20 spaces in the High Street – too far for most disabled people to walk, said Cllr Chilvers.

“I never realised until I was disabled myself how vital those disabled spaces are,  they are not just convenient, they are a lifeline and you can access so much from there for people who can’t walk very far,” she added.

“I didn’t go to St Thomas Road because I know it would be too far.

“There is a common misconception that you only need a bay to get a wheelchair out, well lots of people don’t have wheelchairs.

“I shouldn’t have to make the argument for this, but there just seems to be so many reasons. It’s always the first thing to go.”

The decision comes alongside the Safer, Greener, Healthier scheme which aims to provide bigger, safer spaces for city centre shoppers, residents, workers and visitors to maintain social distance.

By encouraging walking and cycling it will not only enable healthier and greener ways of getting around but should also increase footfall and subsequently sales.

Essex County Council also claims data on streets in the UK and elsewhere where the pedestrian experience has been improved shows footfall increasing 20 to 35 per cent.

She said: “If you are letting delivery vans through I could argue you could probably let blue badge holders through.

“It’s just this glib attitude well just take them out they can walk a bit further.

“They can’t.”

“Do they realise what they are doing when they keep taking disabled spaces away.

“It’s not just about this week. They keep doing it.”

An Essex Highways spokesperson said: “This is a real issue as replacement bays for the ones on the High Street have been created in St Thomas’ Road. Unfortunately, these bays, which have now been designated for blue badge holders only, are being used as short waiting stops by drivers who don’t hold blue badges.

“In response to this, new, larger signs will be installed and civil enforcement officers from the South Essex Parking Partnership will patrol regularly to ensure that these spaces are kept free for those legally allowed to use them.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter