Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Disabled parking bay set to stay in council U-turn

A DISABLED parking bay in Hart Street, Henley, is set to stay following a U-turn by councillors.

A DISABLED parking bay in Hart Street, Henley, is set to stay following a U-turn by councillors.

Last month, the town council’s town and community committee voted to convert one of the two spaces outside the Catherine Wheel into a bay for drivers with a residents’ permit.

The decision was taken on the advice of the council’s parking superintendent Norman Hill, who said the bay was under-used.

However, it angered disabled drivers and their families and friends who contacted councillors and wrote letters of complaint to the town hall and the Henley Standard.

Now the committee has changed its mind and recommended that the bay is retained for the exclusive use of drivers with a blue disabled badge.

Mr Hill told members he was “surprised” his proposal had caused such debate.

He said the over-subscribed residents’ permit scheme had lost six bays in recent few years and this was an opportunity to “bring something back”.

“I get a little bit frustrated when I walk round the town first thing on a Monday morning and one of my permit holders has got a ticket from the police because they haven’t got anywhere to park,” said Mr Hill. “They must be frustrated as well.”

He said the Hart Street bay was restricted for 24 hours a day but if it was only used for a quarter of that time, it was being under-used.

He pointed out that the Catherine Wheel has its own car park with a disabled bay and that blue badge permit holders were permitted to park on double yellow lines for up to three hours.

He also showed pictures of a car with a blue badge parked in a residents’ bay in Hart Street when the two disabled bays were empty.

Mr Hill said that even if one disabled bay was removed the remaining one would be larger than normal because the replacement residents’ permit bay would be smaller.

He suggested one of the loading bays in Duke Street, where there are currently no disabled spaces, would be suitable for conversion into a disabled bay as it is close to an opticians and shops. Alternatively, one of the one-hour bays in Friday Street could be turned into a disabled bay.

He added that he would be happy to reserve a space for a blue badge holder visiting the town if he was given prior notice.

However, Deputy Mayor Martin Akehurst insisted the disabled space should remain.

“As somebody who drives two disabled people around, I am absolutely delighted that I can drive into Henley and actually find a space,” he said.

“It’s all very well having a car with a blue badge that allows you to park anywhere but when you have a modified car or you have to winch out a wheelchair you need a proper bay — you are using a double space.

“Trying to find a disabled bay where you can winch people out is extremely difficult, so having one that is likely to be empty is a great asset.We should be looking at more bays, not less.”

Councillor Will Hamilton said he shared Cllr Akehurst’s concerns but suggested that a trial of Mr Hill’s proposal be carried out.

Councillor Jeni Wood suggested a residents’ permit bay could be created in Duke Street instead of removing the disabled bay in Hart Street but Mr Hill said that could take three-and-a-half years to legislate for.

Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak said disabled bays were increasingly important due to the town’s aging population. “It is irrelevant whether they are occupied, the important thing is whether they are available,” he said.

“It took four years to get to this point and if we remove this bay and we realise it is the wrong decision it could take us four years to get it back — that would be wrong.”

The committee voted by five votes to three to retain the bay. The full council will make the final decision.

Meanwhile, vehicle activated signs have been installed in Marlow Road, Henley. It follows a long campaign by residents of Swiss Farm who say they put their lives at risk when crossing the road because drivers break the 30mph limit.

The campaigners wanted a pedestrian crossing but this was turned down by Oxfordshire County Council, which said the road’s accident record did not justify one.

The arrival of the signs was welcomed by campaigner Susan Phillips but she said the fight for a crossing would continue.

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