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Nicholsons car park alterations praised by disability forum

Changes to a town centre regeneration project to be more inclusive for older people and those with disabilities have been praised.

A virtual meeting of the disability and inclusion forum listened to an update on Monday about major proposals for the Nicholsons Centre multi-storey car park.

At a forum meeting in July, members hit out and formally objected to the Nicholson Quarter planning application for its apparent disregard of disabled people and residents with mobility issues.

One particular issue raised strongly was the fact that the Shopmobility

service – which assists people with mobility issues – was located in a difficult position within the car park.

But the mood in the Zoom meeting was a more pleasant one this time, with vice-chairman Lisa Hughes saying that this part of the town centre regeneration is now more ‘inclusive’.

Chairman Angela Clark shared details of a meeting she and Ms Hughes had with developer Areli and car parking specialists Stripe, on August 5 and Friday last week.

Previous issues were raised at the August meeting, and at this month’s subsequent meet-up, the forum reviewed Areli’s amended plans for the car park, which it said ‘endeavoured to resolve every concern we raised’.

The main changes, which are in a draft stage, include:

  • A street-level set-down point for People to Places mini-buses at the closest point to the Shopmobility entrance.
  • The ground floor ceiling raised to accomodate taller vehicles.
  • ‘Tight turns’ eliminated to improve access for drivers using hand controls only.
  • A total of 17 Shopmobility parking spaces which can be reverted to Blue Badge parking spots when the service is not operating.
  • Seven further Blue Badge spaces.
  • The Shopmobility facillity located next to the pedestrian car park exit.
  • Changing and toilet facilities, power-assisted doors and larger lifts on other floors.

Ms Clark told members at the meeting: “I think you will agree this is such a positive way forward now.”

Echoing this, Ms Hughes said: “I think this part of the town centre regeneration is inclusive and will help older people and people with disabilities really feel like the town centre regeneration is including them.”

Chief executive of the People to Places charity Peter Haley added: “I need to have a proper look at the plans, but it does look

extremely positive at the moment so I am grateful to the Royal Borough, Areli and Stripe for all the efforts they have made so far.”

Cllr Carole Da Costa (WWRA, Clewer and Dedworth East), praised the influence forums can have on decisions.

She said: “It is really good to see what these kind of forums can achieve.”

The climate emergency was also on the agenda at the disability and inclusion forum.

The Royal Borough still has its Environment and Climate Strategy out for public consultation – until Tuesday, September 29 – with an aim of becoming a carbon neutral borough by 2050.

The debate over whether this should be brought forward was discussed once more, with musings that the date is a ‘political’ one.

Regarding other climate issues, Cllr Carole Da Costa highlighted that she had not seen a disabled parking bay with an electric charging point, adding that the council should look into this matter.

And on the subject of electric vehicles, Peter Haley, chief executive of People to Places, said he was keen for his charity to get on board with this but acknowledged changing his fleet to run off electricity would require a ‘big turnaround’.

“I am very much aware that we have got a number of mini-buses, they are all operated on diesel, some of them are quite old,” he said. “And we are keen to do something about that.

“We are very keen, but it is a very big turnaround that we have got to put in place.

“That said, I feel that this is something that just needs to happen one way or another.”

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