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Shortage of Blue Badge bays is likely to worsen as more people with hidden disabilities will be eligible for a permit from Friday.
Administered by Essex County Council, the Blue Badge scheme allows parking concessions for people with a permanent or substantial disability.
In addition to the parking concessions the badge holder is often entitled to park all day in residents’ parking bays, limited waiting bays and for free for a period of three hours in non-barrier controlled car parks.
Once the scheme covered those with physical disabilities, allowing them to park closer than other drivers, but now people with hidden disabilities, including autism and mental health conditions, will soon have access to Blue Badges.
But earlier this year Cllr John Spence told Essex County Council that the new rules could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of applications – putting further pressure on stretched disabled parking provision.
It means district councils responsible for parking may have to find 20 per cent more disabled bays by redesignating able-bodied bays.
The number of Blue Badge holders in Essex could increase from 80,348 to almost 96,500.
Essex has 711 blue spaces and one of the lowest proportions of spaces to blue badge holders in the East of England.
Dedicated Blue Badge parking spaces are available for badge holders, as they are often located closer to entrances or offer more room to get in and out of the car.
However, new data obtained by Confused.com found that many drivers are abusing this luxury.
Last year, more than 156,821 penalty charge notices were issued to drivers for wrongly parking in a Blue Badge parking space in the UK – a 15 per cent increase compared to 2016 when there were 136,940.
However the issue is said to be far more widespread than captured by councils, as almost two million UK drivers admitted they had misused a Blue Badge parking space. And their reasoning was mostly for their own convenience than for a genuine need for the space.