Mon, 30 Jul 2018
A NATIONAL disability rights group has joined the Hungerford Town Hall access row, saying: “Treat us with the dignity we deserve.”
Former town mayor Martin Crane has campaigned for disabled access to the front of the building for years.
So when the Town and Manor of Hungerford announced renovation proposals, he urged trustees to use the opportunity to provide it.
That prompted a terse response from the Constable of the Town and Manor, Ellie Dickins, who said the cost was prohibitive and added: “May I suggest Mr Crane focuses on more important issues challenging the council, such as housing, speeding motorists and crime, to name a few.”
There is currently a lift at the rear of the building, but Mr Crane said it is hard to access it in a wheelchair, the approach road is too narrow to accommodate one without having to go into the road and the doors are often locked.
He described it as “hard to find and even harder to access”.
In an attempt to ease tensions, current town mayor Helen Simpson held a meeting with Town and Manor trustees, after which she stressed in a statement that Mr Crane’s views were his own, not the town council’s.
She added: “As town mayor, I hope to continue to build the relationship between the town council and the Town and Manor through our regular joint meetings.”
Mr Crane also confirmed this week he was speaking in a personal capacity.
But in an email to council colleagues, he said: “The current arrangements for disabled access are not up to a proper standard for a major public building... such access is not acceptable in today’s standards.
“Whilst you may have received comments from some disabled residents indicating their satisfaction with the status quo, I have received many who do not share their view and have welcomed the chance to remedy this situation.
“Moreover, the visitors and tourists that we and the Town and Manor are encouraging... should be able to have direct access to the building from the front, in line with all other major public buildings.
“Indeed, the Town and Manor cannot be immune from such criticisms from those seeking to attend the many functions that are put on in the Corn Exchange.”
He suggested convening a meeting of all interested parties, including a “qualified architect who could advise how such access could be made without damaging the fabric of the building.”
Mr Crane concluded: “Surely the time is right to have this potential improvement in the appearance of our town and, of course, to include it in [the development plan] Hungerford 2036.”
Meanwhile, the policy manager of Disability Rights UK, Philip Connolly, waded in to the row, stating: “It’s clear the owners have to join the 21st century.
“We have the same expectations and rights and want to go in the front.
“No one wants to be shunted round the back. It’s completely unacceptable.
“We should be able to access the building any time it’s open – that’s the law, I’m afraid.
“Treat us with the dignity we deserve.”
However, town resident Jane Wilson, whose disabled husband was instrumental in having the lift installed, writes in this week’s Newbury Weekly News letters pages: “Neither he nor I (as the pusher) ever had any problem with the excellent wheelchair entrance at the rear of the building, which gives level access to both the Corn Exchange and to the lift to the first floor.
“I know that he would have been very dismayed by a totally unnecessary adaption to the front of the building and would support my strong objection.”
As previously reported, the chief executive of the Town and Manor, Jed Ramsay, has issued the following statement setting out the charity’s official stance: “The Town Hall is fully accessible to everyone – we have a flat entrance at the rear of the building and a lift that provides access to the top floor.
“We have recently purchased a good quality set of ramps for use on the internal steps – so we now can offer full access throughout the building.
“We acknowledge that the front entrance of the building has limited access; however the alternative entrances provide full access and we are very happy to facilitate the needs of users of the building wherever we can.”