McVey calls on councils to smooth the way to accessible beaches


theweeksubThe minister for disabled people has written to every local authority in England to try to persuade them to do more to make their tourist hotspots more accessible.

Esther McVey said she wanted councils to ensure that disabled people could enjoy tourist areas such as beaches and countryside beauty spots.

McVey is encouraging councils to work with local disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) through the government’s new Disability Action Alliance (DAA), which brings together more than 180 DPOs, disability charities and other organisations to try to improve disabled people’s lives.

She said councils could benefit from disabled people’s spending power by considering how to make “beaches and other tourist hotspots” more inclusive.

McVey said: “As well as the importance of equal access, it makes good business sense to ensure – as the tourist season reaches its peak – local areas of beauty and interest can attract as many people as possible.”

She added: “Often a small change can make a big difference to disability access and so we’d encourage councils to continue working in partnership with disabled people and their organisations, as they know what works best in their local areas on the ground.”

McVey pointed to the successful Countryside Mobility South West scheme, in which DAA member Living Options Devon works with councils and organisations such as the RSPB, the National Trust and the Forestry Commission to improve access to the countryside across the south-west.

James Maben, project manager for the scheme, said: “It’s impossible to describe the feeling of suddenly having the ability and freedom to go into the countryside again. And with the unusually warm weather this year we have never been busier.”

Carrie-Ann Lightley, information service manager at the charity Tourism for All, which describes itself as the UK’s voice for accessible tourism, welcomed the minister’s call for improved access in tourist resorts.

She said the market for accessible tourism in the UK was worth £2 billion a year, and added: “We always encourage destinations that come to us and want to improve their accessibility to get in touch with local disabled people’s user groups because they will get a better idea of everybody’s different needs, as opposed to just box-ticking.”

She said: “It may be easier for some disabled people to travel within the UK rather than worrying about planes and ships, because it is less hassle and a more accessible way to transport yourself to your destination.”

Lightley said that not only was improving access important, but so was “letting people know that these places are accessible” through marketing.

She reviewed access in Blackpool a couple of years ago and found a mixed picture, with some of the attractions boasting “wonderful” access – the town’s Sandcastle Waterpark won an accessibility gold award from Visit England this year – but fully accessible accommodation only to be found in hotels that offered institutional-type full care packages.

Lightley said: “Accessibility obviously should be a priority for any destination but for a seaside resort like Blackpool where the majority of income comes from tourism, accessibility should be very high up the agenda.”

21 August 2013