No access for wheelchairsLocal Liberal Democrat county and borough councillor, Robin Parker, is hitting out at the developers of the new Marriotts and Lonsdale schools site, because they have erected signs stating that pedestrian routes around the edge of the site are no longer a right of way – and furthermore have physically prevented all access by wheelchair or mobility scooter users.

The new site, developed and operated by Balfour Beatty under a PFI government contract, opened for use in January. Vehicle traffic accesses the site from Brittain Way. There are three pedestrian accesses: a gate off Brittain Way, a gate at Fry Road (Fry Road is off the top of Pankhurst Crescent) and a gate off Priestley Road.

Robin Parker has been contacted in recent years, since the building started in 2010, by many local residents in the area over many problems to do with issues at the new site. He has told residents: “The pedestrian access problems became obvious within the last week or two and it is the latest of a series of issues for residents living near the new school site.”

“For decades, pedestrians have been able to walk around the perimeter of the site, and since 1968 (when the then buildings on the site were used by Nobel School) there has been a path used for this purpose. When I studied the pedestrian access arrangements around the site, months ago, I found out that Balfour Beatty’s intention was:

  • to erect a strong three rail fence around the perimeter to secure their site;
  • to have gates at Brittain Way, Fry Road and Priestley Road to allow pedestrian access during the day but to lock these at night until morning.”

“Residents rightly complained to me that the 24 hour right of way that they had enjoyed since the 1960s was to be removed at certain hours of the evening, night and morning, which would severely hinder many of them who leave for work early or return in the evening and who may use the perimeter route, perhaps to get to the bus stop in Six Hills Way near Fry Road.”

“As the local county councillor for this area, I took the issue up with Hertfordshire County Council (HCC), who supposedly liaise with the developers, Balfour Beatty. Nobody was able to give me any reason why the gates had to be locked at certain times and what the legal situation was over an apparent right of way going back 50 years. I was, however, told that the right of way issue would be open to a legal challenge, should any local residents wish to do so.”

“I was waiting for a full response on this, when the perimeter fence appeared about a month ago. It is a badly constructed, badly set and a flimsy wood thing which has got only two rails and, as I predicted, it has already been damaged. It is not a good outlook for residents of, for example, Priestley Road, who overlook it.”

“I raised this with HCC as well and was given assurances by HCC Planning officials that it would be improved and changed, to be in line with the specification.”

“However, before there could be any change, although no locking gates, as planned,  were put in place, instead three kissing gates appeared at the three gates mentioned: Brittain Way, Fry Road, Priestley Road. Kissing gates swing in an enclosure surrounded by fencing. The idea is to prevent access to the site by motor bikes and the like, whilst allowing free access to pedestrians 24 hours a day. It would be very unwelcome for local residents if the site became a playground for people on motor bikes all evening and, in that respect, the freely swinging gates are OK.”

“However:

  • the kissing gates are totally impossible for motorized disability scooters and wheelchairs to go through;
  • this therefore discriminates against disabled residents;
  • a number of residents using such scooters or wheelchairs did regularly use the accesses until the kissing gates made this impossible.”

“Also, to complicate the issues even further:

  • as of 1.2.2013, signs have been erected at the gates stating that there is no right of way.”

“We all want the new school site to be secure, but this need not mean discriminating against disabled residents or closing a right of way which has been used since the 1960s.”

“I have many times taken up all these issues in meetings and calls to HCC and Balfour Beatty, but have so far had no satisfactory response. I want the public to know that I am doing my best to resolve these (and other) problems at the site:

  • the inadequate wood fence around the perimeter;
  • the denial of access for disabled residents;
  • the signs stating that there is no public right of way;
  • why a decent, fit for purpose fence cannot be constructed a few metres inside from the site boundary, thus keeping the footpaths outside the site and free for all to use 24 hours a day and yet maintaining school security for students, parents and staff.”

“I am also extremely concerned that, although I am the county councillor for the area concerned, there has been no consultation or proper information or feedback to myself, or local residents, about these issues.”

“I will continue to pursue them” concluded Robin Parker