MORE than 5,000 disabled people could be affected by a council’s decision to review its current policy on parking for blue badge holders.
The Bury St Edmunds public seem divided following last week’s announcement that St Edmundsbury Borough Council will be carrying out a review of disabled parking in its off-street car parks.
Depending on the findings of the controversial review, in the future the district’s 5,221 blue badge holders could be forced to pay to park their vehicles which, at the moment, they do for free.
Most seem opposed to the idea, while others believe that blue badge holders should be charged a reduced parking rate or a fee based on the severity of their disability.
The thought has angered Pip Collins, whose father held a blue badge up until he died.
The 39-year-old, from Bury, said: “They shouldn’t have to pay, they should have access to the town – they don’t have the option of parking elsewhere.”
Her husband Tony said that even considering to change the free policy was ‘a terrible thing’.
David and Fiona Glover, from Walsham-le-Willows, shared the Collins’ views.
Mr Glover said: “I think it’s quite petty, a lot of elderly and disabled people don’t have a lot of money. Some of them are ex-servicemen having come back from Afghanistan and we owe them.”
One man with a spinal condition, who did not want to be named, said he used a blue badge during his time in a wheelchair.
As a former badge holder he said he could understand both sides of the debate but did believe that the system was being abused.
“Not all blue badge holders are people with serious issues so it’s not like they couldn’t afford a few quid,” he said.
Yvonne Spooner, 54, from Bury, expressed concern for the potentially damaging impact the change in policy could have on disabled people.
She said: “A lot of disabled people are on benefits and parking would be an added extra for them. Why should they be denied the opportunity to come into town and shop? It might isolate them.”
Margaret Vass, 74, from Bury, said: “I have a disabled friend and free parking is one of those things that are done today. They have a lot to put up with, being disabled, and it would be one more problem.”
Her daughter Suzanne Tessier agreed: “It would be one more obstacle for them,” she said, adding: “You never know when you might need it as well.”
“I think it should stay as it is, they (the council) can save money in other ways,” commented John Andrew, 57, from Glemsford.
“One day I’m going to be like that myself,” he added.
Maureen Weller, 66, from Bardwell, proposed charging blue badge holders half the rate of other car park users.
She said: “Actually I do think they (disabled people) should pay but at a reduced rate because they’re disabled after all and maybe some of them can’t afford extra bits and pieces.”
Julian Coole, a support care worker for Suffolk based disability charity Optua, was in Bury town centre with Paul Harrison, who is wheelchair bound due to a severe disability.
Mr Coole said: “It all depends on the severity of what they’ve got – if they are well enough to walk then I think they should pay for parking but it should be free for people like Paul who are never going to work.
“Nothing can take away his disability. I can walk, talk and drive my car anywhere but he can’t park anywhere. With people with severe cases of disability, parking is something we should give back to them.”
Cllr David Nettleton, chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee, said the option of charging special rates or issuing season tickets would be investigated.
“We shouldn’t always make the assumption that people with blue badges are on low incomes or that they don’t want to pay, many want to be treated equally,” he said.
A report is expected to be considered by the committee in October, after local disability groups have been contacted for their opinions.