Disabled motorists who have won victories over two local authorities that scrapped free parking could inspire other campaigners fighting council spending cuts, says one leading activist.
City of Lincoln Council and Norwich City Council both removed free parking for holders of blue parking badges in some of their council-run carparks in 2009.
But disabled people complained that the councils had ignored the extra time it can take disabled people to park and shop.
Five disabled motorists from Norfolk have now forced Norwich council to rethink its decision after threatening legal action under disability discrimination laws.
Last month, the council bowed to the pressure and introduced new reduced rates for disabled drivers, with an hour’s free parking for every hour they buy in the seven carparks at which charges apply.
The changes were seen as “reasonable adjustments” under the new Equality Act, which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act in October 2010.
The victory followed that of Matt Smith, who took Lincoln council to court over its decision to scrap free parking for blue badge-holders. Lincoln council agreed to introduce a similar “buy one, get one free” concession.
The Norwich action was sparked by Helen Smith, who lives in the city and is director of policy and campaigns for the disabled motorists’ charity Mobilise.
She said: “I am hoping that other councils up and down the land will now look at their policies.”
Smith described their success as “a small but notable victory” that she hoped would “set a precedent” in disabled people’s battle against spending cuts.
She said: “They may want to cut spending but a discriminatory policy is not the way to go. Parking or cutting people’s care, it all comes under the same banner as far as I am concerned.
“It is about time people realised that you cannot just stamp all over disabled people.”
She believes many other councils have carried out similar policies, and encouraged disabled people whose local authorities have scrapped free parking to contact Wake Smith and Tofields, the legal firm that acted for her and the other claimants in both Norwich and Lincoln.
The Norwich campaigners are now liaising with the council over possible compensation.
A Norwich council spokeswoman claimed the decision to change its parking fees last month was unconnected with the threat of legal action, and that the council altered them because of the new Equality Act.
She said the council had “consulted widely” with disabled residents and disabled groups before introducing the original changes to charges in 2009.
13 January 2011