Paralympian calls for action over ‘shocking’ access in city centre car parks


A Paralympian who won three gold medals at London 2012 has called for action after a new survey revealed “shocking” access failures in city centre car parks across England, Wales and Scotland.

The campaigning user-led charity Disabled Motoring UK (DM UK) surveyed 20 city centre car parks in London, Cardiff, Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Birmingham, and found “substantial shortfalls” in their accessibility.

Only one of the 20 car parks achieved the government’s recommended minimum proportion of accessible parking spaces (six per cent of the total number of spaces), while five had less than one per cent, and two did not have a single accessible space.

The survey also found that two of the car parks were completely inaccessible to wheelchair-users.

Among other problems revealed by the survey, many of the car parks did not have sufficient headroom for wheelchair-accessible vehicles to enter, more than half failed to use signs to direct vehicles to the nearest accessible spaces, while some lifts were substandard, broken or too small to take larger wheelchairs, and many ticket machines were inaccessible to some disabled people.

But the survey did find little evidence of abuse of accessible spaces by vehicles without blue parking badges, in contrast to DM UK’s larger surveys of supermarket car parks, which have consistently shown widespread abuse.

Paralympian Sophie Christiansen, who has won five equestrian gold medals, including three at this summer’s games in London, said it was “shocking” that some car parks were allowed to be completely inaccessible to wheelchair-users.

She said: “As a disabled driver I am increasingly left frustrated by the inadequate accessible car parking in city centres.”

She said it made “good business sense” for car parks to be accessible, so retailers could take advantage of disabled people’s spending power.

She added: “Town managers, retailers and car park owners need to make urgent changes to city centre car parks to ensure that our high streets are as accessible as possible.”

Chris Fry, managing partner of the law firm Unity Law, which specialises in disability discrimination cases, said the report showed that some car parks could be at risk of “very costly legal actions” under the Equality Act if they did not make the necessary “reasonable adjustments” for disabled people.

Among DM UK’s recommendations, it calls for a new “accessible car parking guide” for local authorities and private sector car park owners, and for existing car park accreditation schemes to improve how they report accessibility.

A British Parking Association (BPA) spokeswoman said: “The BPA has a close relationship with DM UK and often consults them on advice and information to be given to members.

“The BPA is dedicated to educating members in best practice and members are very receptive to the information provided. We are working towards improving the industry for disabled motorists although, unfortunately, this takes time and money.”

8 November 2012