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March 2010

On the Home Front

Have you noticed the link at the top of this page? This is another of the changes mentioned in an earlier update. When you read the progress reports of our longer term projects, you’ll be able to refer to our Previous Pages to refresh your memory of the details.
Once again the Group has to say farewell, this time to Moira and Sylvia. They both feel unable to attend committee meetings due to a decline in their health, but will stay as members of the group to give us the benefit of their experience. They leave with our warmest thanks for all their input into the work we have been doing and a promise to keep in touch. We’ll miss their presence at our regular meetings, but are pleased to welcome Mark Upton as a new member. We look forward to working with him.


Artists Studios

At the beginning of January the Group took the unusual step of formally objecting to a Planning Application. The Unity Arts Trust was applying to convert a building on St James Industrial Estate, Chichester, into studios for artists, including those with disabilities. What got us going was a subsequent letter from the applicant to the planning officer about the plans. It stated that “the previous intention to provide a Disabled Toilet is financially impossible.” In other words ‘there won’t be one.’
We felt this was totally at odds with the Disability Discrimination Acts of 1995 and 2005, but further enquiries made us aware of the circumstances that had given rise to the applicant’s decision. During a conversation with the applicant, our chairman made some specific proposals to improve access to the building and ensure that disabled users and visitors would have access to a properly adapted toilet. The new leaseholder has agreed to go along with her advice and the result will be a much improved facility to the one originally proposed.
Satisfied with this result, we have withdrawn our objection.


Access Assessors Course

Following the successful completion of this London-based course at the end of January, we congratulate three more of our members on becoming accredited access assessors. This means that six members - that’s half of the committee - are now qualified to carry out access audits. It’s a fantastic achievement for them and for the Group.
Students on these courses come from many different organisations and from all parts of the country. The course covers such topics as the relevant parts of the DDA, the Disability Equality Duty, Fire Exits and many other access issues. After the theory, small groups go off to practice what they’ve learnt by carrying out an access audit then giving a presentation on their findings. The recent one was done in same building as the theory. Each group came up with the same assessment – the building had been poorly adapted. Not such a good venue for the disabled students, but very good for highlighting the difficulties all disabled people have to put up with.
All of our members thought the training was excellent; they got on well with both the tutors and their fellow students and enjoyed the whole learning experience, even though it was quite intense at times.
Approximately a third of those on the courses our members attended had a disability. We were pleased to learn that some students were architects, developers, council officials or officers responsible for access issues. Although they were usually looking at things from the opposite point of view to ours, one of our members was told that doing the course had made them realise that they hadn’t really thought about all the issues faced by disabled people.
The message is getting through – albeit somewhat slowly.


Testing Taxis

CAG was invited to send three representatives to a public meeting of the Council’s Licensing and Enforcement Committee on the 11th of February. The Committee had received requests to licence different models of cab, in addition to the only one currently licensed for the District. This followed a successful court case brought by a wheelchair user. Her argument was that, as she was unable to use the only licensed ‘London’ taxi, a refusal to grant a licence to a model of cab she could use amounted to disability discrimination.
After a report about the factors that had to be taken into consideration, the meeting adjourned to the car park to view three different cabs. We were there to show how easy, or otherwise, it was for people with various mobility issues to get into, sit in and get out of, each vehicle. We also answered questions from some of the committee and talked to the taxi drivers who brought the vehicles and others who had come to the meeting. A fourth cab was snowbound and will be tested later on.
Although the organizer had arranged for wheelchairs to be available, none of the committee took advantage of the opportunity to find out what it feels like to get up a ramp into the modest space available. Not that we blamed them. Only the one of us, who uses a wheelchair most often, rose to the challenge. She found that both the gradients of the ramps and the headroom inside the taxis left a lot to be desired.
The driver who brought the largest vehicle did say that the makers were going to raise the roof, but that wouldn’t alter the angle of the very steep ramp, would it? As the session ended, we were thanked for taking the time to give members an insight into the difficulties faced by disabled people as they try to live as normal a life as possible.
All the drivers were very helpful and considerate, but our report will express our concern that none of them had any training in the manual handling of disabled people or manoeuvring wheelchairs. We also feel it was clear that one style of cab is not suitable for all disabled people and will suggest that the Committee considers licensing a range of models.


DisabledGo

On 16th February, CAG hosted a well attended meeting of the DisabledGo-Chichester Steering Group.
Kimberly Dixon, of DisabledGo, gave a concise progress report of the work they were doing throughout the UK and Ireland. Of particular interest was the news that the website had received a face-lift. It should now be much easier to find the accessible venues you want to visit.
During the Question Time Session, suggestions to improve the usefulness of the site were put forward. These included; concentrating more on venues that are considered accessible rather than those that are not; listing more venues in the north of the district and displaying all the locations on a map. This would give visitors to the site a much better idea of the area covered by Chichester District and where the towns and villages are in relation to each other.


Centurion Way

A Planning Application was put into Chichester District Council for a stepped and ramped link between the northern end of Centurion Way and Meadow Lodge Development, Lavant. It was brought to the Group’s notice because the proposed gradient of the ramps was 1:6 - impossibly steep. WSCC claimed this did not matter because the ramps were intended for cyclists, not disabled people.
 Discrimination with a capital D!
Needless to say, CAG objected very strongly, pointing out that this so-called access point wasn't actually that accessible for cyclists and the one to the south, at Brandy Hole Lane, was too far away to be considered a suitable alternative. Being a helpful bunch, we suggested that the proposed link should be steps only, while the nearby public footpath, to the south of the development, could be properly surfaced and made into an accessible link. This would be safer for cyclists, especially young ones, parents with buggies & children – and (dare we say it?) even suitable for disabled people.
In spite of its name and proximity to Fishbourne Roman Palace, this footpath/cycleway began life late in the Victorian railway boom. It follows the route of a branch railway line that ran west from Chichester, and then curved north east to Midhurst. It was never a great success. Over the years, business declined and it was finally closed in 1991.
As with other disused railways, the rails were removed and the decision was made to turn it into a footpath and cycleway. The width and gentle gradients of redundant rail tracks make them particularly suitable for this sort of leisure use. By then, parts of the trackbed had reverted back to farmland, been destroyed or lost to housing development. When the Centurion Way was opened in 1995, it only went as far as Mid Lavant.

Seven years later an extension to West Dean was completed, making the route five miles each way. According to their 2006 leaflet, “This scheme complies with the County Council’s initiative to increase awareness of the problems arising from motor traffic and to promote other modes of transport such as walking and cycling...”

The path starts at the western end of Westgate and is marked by a sculpture made by Richard Farrington, with the help of pupils from the nearby Bishop Luffa School. The arch is a section from the hull of a wooden mine sweeper, while the designs on the top are taken from Romano-British mosaics to reflect the Roman influence on the area.

The start of the Centurion Way, with the Roman Archway sculpture by Richard Farrington
"Roman Archway"

It looks so inviting doesn’t it? Just the place to go and spend an hour or two with family and friends; getting a totally different view of the eastern side of the city and away from traffic and buildings.
We’ve now heard that permission has been granted. From the conditions imposed on the developer by Planning, it would seem that birds, animals, bats, moths - and even the roots of trees, take precedence over disabled people. It’s not on, is it? However, we don’t give up that easily and you can be sure that they haven’t heard the last of us.