Long-time readers of this blog will no doubt be familiar with the story of East Street in Horsham. This is a narrow town centre street that used to be a one-way road, with narrow pavements and plenty of on-street parking, open to vehicles at all times. During 2010 it was converted into a ‘shared space’, with access restrictions imposed, limiting entry only to vehicles loading on the street, and vehicles displaying disabled blue badges, parking on the street.
Then this year a decision was made by the council to close the street entirely to motor vehicles between the hours of 10:30 in the morning, and 4:30 in the afternoon. The background to that decision, and some more history of the street, can be read here.
To summarise, the main problem was a reluctance of most of the people shopping on, and using, the street to ‘share’ the environment with motor vehicles, particularly the larger delivery lorries. The narrow width of the street also meant that the restaurants along the street – of which there are several – could not use the street itself for al fresco dining while it was still open to motor vehicles.
The council sensibly took these concerns on board, and now the street is closed during the main shopping hours of the day, while still open to bicycles, in both directions. I’ve written effusively about the great improvement this made to this part of the town here.
The current arrangement works well; deliveries can be made before 10:30, and after 4:30. These are times when the street is less busy. For the intervening six hours, tables and chairs can come out onto this street, families can let their children play without concern, and the street is quieter and much more pleasant. The improvement, in just two years, has been vast.
However this partial closure has not met with the approval of all residents; one has voiced his concerns in the local paper this week.
The husband of a disabled woman is angry at plans to permanently pedestrianise East Street, robbing her of suitable town centre disabled parking.
This is incorrect in one immediate respect. The street is not being ‘permanently’ pedestrianised; as I have made clear, the pedestrianisation is only between the hours of 10:30am and 4:30pm.
“The perverse thing is they have already made the changes on a trial basis. It’s just bizarre,” Mr Davis said. “In the whole of Horsham there’s almost nowhere that can accommodate her at all.”
Quite how a scheme can be trialled without actually making the changes that need to be tested is not clear. It is not at all ‘bizarre’ that a trial might actually involve making the proposed changes, to see how they work.
Further, the idea that the closure of one street, which has only a handful of disabled parking spaces on it, is ‘robbing’ this man’s wife of disabled town centre parking, or has the result that there is ‘almost nowhere’ in the town that can accommodate his wife, is hyperbolic.
There is a vast amount of disabled parking available in Horsham’s numerous town centre car parks, as well as plenty of on-street disabled parking bays, to say nothing of the ability of those displaying blue badges to park on any double yellow lines, without causing obstruction, for three hours.
Mr Davis’ wife, who has a rare variation of muscular dystrophy which affects her arms and legs, is able to drive through her wheelchair with the use of her fingers. But the loss of disabled parking in East Street, because of changes, means it is harder for her to make it into the town centre independently.
It is obviously terrible that Mr Davis’ wife has a serious illness. However the town centre is still entirely accessible by car; East Street is not the only route into the town centre. Nor can it seriously be said that there is no longer anywhere to park in the vicinity of East Street. There are two car parks very close by (a matter of 50-100 yards away) both with plenty of disabled spots. I marked these on this satellite map of the surrounding area –
There are also several streets nearby (including the Carfax, the Causeway, Denne Road, and Park Place) where blue badge holders can park legitimately on double yellow lines. All these locations are of the same order of distance from the restaurants on East Street as one disabled spot on the street could be from a restaurant on the same street.
The particular issue Mr Davis seems to have is that he and his wife are no longer able to park right in front of one or two restaurants on East Street during the middle hours of the day.
The county council declined to comment on whether the only way to reach the new parking bay outside Ask, when the barriers are up in East Street, is to reverse up a one-way street, or on Mr Davis’ call for the consultation to be suspended, or whether a proper impact assessment has been carried out.
If Mr Davis and his wife wish to visit the Ask restaurant, they don’t have to reverse up a one-way street to access a disabled parking bay (which would of course involve breaking the law). They can simply park in the Carfax on a double-yellow line –
Or alternatively in the Causeway, again on double yellow lines, with a blue badge.
Admittedly this means his wife may have to travel up to 50 yards to reach the front door of the restaurant, instead of just ten yards, but in a motorised wheelchair this slight difference in distance is negligible in comparison to the more general difficulty of getting into and around the restaurant.
Similarly there are plenty of other shops and restaurants in Horsham that are inaccessible by car. (Indeed, at a rough estimate, I would say that 80-90% of the shops in Horsham town centre do not have parking spots in front of them – this is partly what makes the town centre so attractive). The main shopping street, West Street, has been completely pedestrianised since the 1980s, as is the case with Middle Street.
The Carfax, similarly, has been largely pedestrianised for decades, like the Bishopric. The shopping centre, Swan Walk, is of course not open to motor vehicles, nor is Piries Place, where Waitrose is found, along with several other shops.
The disabled have accessed, and continue to access, all these shops and restaurants by the simple method of parking nearby, and then finishing their trip without a car. A car is not necessary for the final stages of these trips.
While I wholeheartedly believe that town centres should be made as friendly for the disabled as possible (and I think uniform surfaces, and cycle tracks, have a big part to play in that role), the disabled cannot expect to be able to drive a car right up the front of every single shop they wish to visit. Why East Street should prove to be an exception is not clear to me.