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‘Heads should hang in shame’ over accessible venue refusal
Monday, 22 October 2012
COLYTON Parish Council is “out of touch with the community” and should “hang their heads in shame” after refusing to meet in a more disabled-friendly venue, says a former councillor.
Paul Arnott, who resigned from the council in March, has spoken exclusively to the Pulman’s View From Colyton about his disappointment over the council’s decision, as reported last week, and how the Reece Strawbridge Youth Centre has offered a solution.
At the October meeting of Colyton Parish Council, Councillor Alan Davis’ proposal to hold all meetings at the accessible Peace Memorial Playing Fields Pavilion to comply with the Equality Act, rather than in the upstairs boardroom of the Colyton Feoffees Town Hall, was refused. Arguing councillors said the pavilion was regularly booked on Monday evenings and that they were not breaking the Equality Act as they had the option of using the downstairs Mortimer Room in the town hall if necessary.
Mr Arnott, a trustee and chairman of the management committee of the Reece Strawbridge Youth Centre, has now revealed that the centre is willing to offer the council use of the upstairs room, which has full disabled access, on Monday nights.
Councillor Sheila Smith, also bookings secretary for the youth centre, has written to the parish clerk advising her that the hall is available on Monday nights, and Councillor Mark Mann, a trustee of the centre, has written requesting an agenda item on the matter at next month’s meeting.
Mr Arnott said that costs would have to be negotiated with the council. He could not speak for all the trustees but did not expect costs would be more than what the council currently pays for use of the Feoffees’ boardroom.
He said the room at the centre was “completely fit for purpose” and built with disabled access in mind.
Referring to the two council meetings a year that are currently held in Colyford Memorial Hall, Mr Arnott continued: “The room is about the same size as Colyford Memorial Hall, which is a great venue and I’m glad that meetings are being held there.”
He said it had a friendly atmosphere, unlike the “stuffy” and “intimidating” boardroom.
Mr Arnott hopes that if the council do vote on the new proposal it will be a recorded vote.
“In my personal opinion, on such a key issue there should be a recorded vote so people can see who votes against it,” he said.
“Those doing the right thing and showing courage should have their names recorded as well.”
Emphasising that it was his own view and not that of the Reece Strawbridge Centre trustees, Mr Arnott spoke about the council’s refusal to move to the accessible pavilion.
“The way they have responded to disabled access sums it up really. It sums up their attitude and lack of understanding of national legislation. There’s lots of disabled and elderly people in Colyton who would like to come to meetings who can’t get up the stairs. If they do manage to scale the heights they are faced with this room that’s completely impractical and intimidating. It doesn’t meet legislation.”
Referring to the council’s option to move meetings to the downstairs Mortimer Room to provide diabled access, he continued: “The point of disabled access is that a disabled person should be able to turn up without phoning the clerk, becoming a spectacle and the cause of a moving of meeting venue, and the councillors should know that.”
He said the recent Paralympics should have taught them that the most important factor of disabled access was to “provide the circumstances for disabled people to do normal things, like turn up to a meeting”.
Mr Arnott added that the Mortimer Room was “not particularly practical”. He said it was also quite small and, while technically having disabled access, people still had to go down a narrow, long alleyway.
“People will still have the stigma for being the person who caused the change of venue,” he added.
"Ultimately, it’s among the worst of many low points of conduct at Colyton Parish Council which I have witnessed over the years. The failure by the leadership of the council to give disabled people access to public meetings is really a disgrace. Heads should hang in shame.
“The only way they could defend it is to say they’re defending tradition. They’re not really, they’re just out of touch with the community.
“The council seems to have a number of options. They can move meetings to Tuesdays in the pavilion, to Mondays in the Reece Strawbridge, or to the Mortimer Room. The option to do nothing is unacceptable.
“The suspicion is that after the Pulman’s View’s coverage the town is so angry that those who have been blocking this will now try to retreat into the inadequate Mortimer Room and give as their excuse of the need for the clerk to be near the parish office. That is no excuse. It is up to the clerk to arrange her papers before not during meetings.”
All content © of Pulmans Weekly News unless stated otherwise.
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Sir Ray Tindle
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