LETTER: 'Normally a political opponent losing their seat wouldn't make me unhappy but in Cllr Brenda Lay's case this leaves me fuming'.
PUBLISHED: 21:23 01 November 2016 | UPDATED: 21:24 01 November 2016
Normally a political opponent losing their seat wouldn't make me unhappy but in Cllr Brenda Lay's case this leaves me fuming.
The suggestion in the Wisbech Standard article (28 October) that this problem has arisen over the past six months is ridiculous. The facts of the case suggest the town council could not be ‘bovvered’.
It is 21 years since the Disability Discrimination Act was first passed which required that buildings should be made accessible and 10 years since the Amended Act was passed requiring local councils to be pro-active in overcoming discrimination against disabled people.
This means that the council had a duty to remove or mitigate any feature which made it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to gain access.
Given the size and resources of the town council the stair lift might be a reasonable adjustment.
However more could and should have been done. If nothing could have been done to remove the steps and replace with a ramped entrance there are plenty of suitable and safe portable ramps on the market rather than expect Cllr Lay or any other mobility impaired person to use a plank of wood.
A drop kerb could and should have been installed outside the Town Hall entrance with a yellow box on the road to prevent parking. Parking in front of a drop kerb is an offence and can result in a fine. A wheelchair could have been bought for placement at the top of the stairs for mobility impaired people to transfer into from the stair lift if necessary, as in Cllr Lay’s case.
Fenland Council’s Equality Officer and Planning Officers could and should have been able to advise the town council on their legal obligations and the measures to meet those.
I sincerely hope that Cllr Lay appeals any attempt to remove her as she is clearly the victim of discrimination due to Wisbech Town Council’s failure to meet its legal obligations to make its meetings accessible.
As a footnote I would also point out this isn’t just an issue for councillors but also members of the public who also need to be able to access meetings and for any staff who may develop a permanent or temporary impairment that prevented them climbing steps.
The cost of the access measures I have suggested would not be prohibitive so I urge Wisbech Town Council to get this sorted as a matter of urgency. The current arrangements mean that in the event of a fire, evacuation of all but the able would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Has the Fire Service carried out an inspection and given advice on this issue I wonder?
I hope that the Cllr Lay’s appeal is upheld and the cost of holding an election is saved and also that accessible venues are considered for some future meetings, which have, I understand, been promised on numerous occasions but never acted upon, while access to the Council Chamber is improved.
In my opinion all Cllr Lay’s fellow Councillors should support this end result and sympathise with disabled and temporarily ‘unabled’ Councillors, staff and the public who need to attend Town Council meetings.
Chair of NE Cambs Labour Party