'Wisbech is the home of paralympian Jody Cundy...yet here at the town council office it is extremely difficult for a disabled person to attend council meetings and get there with dignity'.
PUBLISHED: 15:08 04 November 2016 | UPDATED: 15:18 04 November 2016
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A disability campaigner says politics should be put aside in a row over a disabled woman being removed from her post at Wisbech Town Council.
Instead he says the focus should be on getting proper access and disabled toilets for the future.
Brian Wilson, a member of national network, Access Association, said: “I don’t know the political issues involved but what I can say is that the building only gives a token nod to disabled access.
“A paraplegic would not be able to transfer into the stair lift.
“Somebody with a broken leg in a splint would not be able to travel up the stairs that way.
“Wisbech is the home of paralympian Jody Cundy, who wins medals for his country, a person who I’m sure the town is extremely proud of, yet here at the local town council office, it is extremely difficult for a disabled person to attend council meetings and get there with dignity.
“What has been done is the least cost option. It is terrible disabled access.”
UKIP councillor Brenda Lay was removed as she had not attended a meeting for six months and under national legislation automatically loses her post.
She had not formally put in a request for special dispensation because she had not realised the six month time frame was up.
But Mr Wilson said: “If access had not been so difficult she would not have been in this position in the first place.
Mark Taylor, chairman of the Eastern region of the Access Association, who works at Cambridge City Council, said: “Organisations have had since 1970 when laws were first passed, to sort this.
“Sadly very few councils have an access officer which means this is lost as a priority, and means it does not help encourage disabled people to serve as councillors.”
Conservative leader David Oliver said: “The whole thing has been turned on its head. The Lays commended the work that was done to standard with the ramp. Once off the stair lift you are on a level floor.
“We’ve done everything possible to help Brenda get into meetings. It’s easy to jump on a bandwagon but you could point out failings in access at probably 95 per cent of buildings in Fenland.
“I don’t know how much more we could have done without incurring extra costs - we have done what is affordable and practicable which is what is stated within the law.”
Conservative Councillor Steve Tierney said in his blog that the disability access row was: “An ongoing campaign being spun by different individuals looking to score cheap political points on the back of a lady’s illness.
He said: “The council took very seriously and completed the required changes over a year ago – changes that Brenda Lay commended the council on as shown in council minutes.
“Alan and Brenda Lay expressed satisfaction with it and said it solved their access problems.
“The council commissioned a tailor-made metal ramp, which was delivered over a year ago.
“The town council offered to buy a wheelchair and keep it at the council to make things easier for the Lays. They declined the offer, saying that it was not necessary.
“The clerk is fully aware of the council’s legal obligations and every effort was made to accommodate the Lay’s access issues.”
Wisbeh town Clerk Terry Jordan said in a letter to councillor Virginia Buckmor that on October 24 a request was made for Wisbech Town Council to hold a meeting at another venue so that Mrs Lay could attend He checked her attendance record hoping they could aim for 21 November and discovered her last attendance had been 25 April.
“It was, therefore, necessary for me, as the proper officer of Wisbech Town Council, to inform Mrs Lay of the situation with regard to her membership of the council.
“It is not the practice of Wisbech Town Council for its officers to ‘tip off’ councillors in relation to their attendance.
“Mrs Lay had never complained to me about the effectiveness of the stair lift or the ramp. In fact, at minute 91/15 (26 October 2015 meeting of the council) Mrs Lay stated that the ramp had provided her with a safe and comfortable means of access to the Town Hall. Furthermore she thanked me for my efforts in providing the solution to her access difficulties.”
• Wisbech Town Council has no disabled toilets.
• A stair lift was installed 15-20 years ago.
• May 2015. Brenda Lay is the first disabled councillor voted on to Wisbech Town Council.
• A temporary wooden ramp is made before her first meeting so she can get into the front door. It is difficult and heavy to put out. If a car parks outside the front door the ramp cannot be used.
• A new L-shaped ramp made of metal is commissioned and bought by the council at a cost f £700. It can be used if a car is parked outside.
• October 2015. The town council look at costs to hire alternative venues for meetings. Councillors agreed the new ramp is sufficient and Cllr Lay expresses her appreciation. The council agree hiring other venues would incur extra costs and be less ‘operationally effective’.
• August 2016. Cllr Virginia Bucknor approaches the Wisbech Town Council clerk as Cllr Lay’s health has deteriorated. This meant although the ramp was suitable it was increasingly difficult, once inside the building, to get out of her disability scooter and into and out of the stair lift to the council chamber on the first floor.
• September 5, 2016. Cllr Alan Lay said he would ask Brenda if she could get into a wheelchair once out of the stair lift upstairs and said for now take no action.
• October 17, 206. Cllr Lay said the wheelchair option was not viable as Brenda’s health was not good enough. She finds the whole situation degrading and embarrassing.
• October 24, 2016. Cllr Bucknor asks council leader Cllr David Oliver, before a meting of the full council, if the access issue can be looked at again and could they hold some meetings at a more accessible venue like The Oasis.
• October 26, 2016. Brenda is sent a letter removing her from her post as councillor under the six month rule.
THE SIX MONTH RULE
• If a councillor has not attended a meeting for six months the legislation to remove them kicks in automatically.
• Before the six months is up they can apply for dispensation in a formal request.
• The request must be proposed and seconded then voted upon in a meeting of all councillors.
• Councillors can legally attend just one meeting every six months to ensure they sit within the rule.