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Anger from campaigners over controversial decision
DISABLED groups are fighting plans to force Blue Badge holders to pay to use council-owned car parks in the New Forest.
Civic chiefs have angered campaigners by approving proposals to scrap the free parking currently enjoyed by more than 10,000 motorists across the district.
Critics say Blue Badge holders, many of whom are on low incomes, will face financial hardship.
They also fear that disabled motorists will sidestep the new charges by exercising their right to park on double yellow lines, causing congestion in busy town centre streets.
New Forest District Council claims that all drivers should contribute to the cost of maintaining car parks in the area.
Officers estimate that the proposed new charges for Blue Badge holders will boost the council’s annual income by at least £75,000.
However Age Concern New Forest East says the authority’s decision will be opposed by organisations such New Forest Access for All and the New Forest Disability Information Service.
An Age Concern spokesman said: “They’re going to fight it and we’re right behind them.
“It’s not just older people who are going to be affected, it’s all disabled people – and they’ll be hurt quite drastically.”
Joan Cundill chairman of New Forest Access for All, added: “We’re very disappointed at the council’s decision. Unloading a wheelchair in a car park is difficult enough without having to worry about paying.
“An awful lot of disabled people are on benefits and this is going to cause some real problems.”
One of the council’s own members has described the proposed new system as “mean and unjust”.
Councillor David Harrison, a former leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group, warned that the Conservative-controlled authority could face a legal challenge.
He said: “The Tories have consulted with groups such as Age Concern but they haven’t listened.
“It’s a great pity because it will mean more than 10,000 disabled people in the Forest will suffer hardship.”
Potential victims of the council’s new policy include Diana Arnold, 66, of Hythe, who looks after her 92-year-old mother Ursula and often takes her out and about.
Diana said: “We often use our Blue Badge every day in the summer.
“In future we’ll just have to pay to park, which will be another |
burden on our pension.”
One in three local authorities across the UK already charge Blue Badge holders to park, including Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch.
Disabled motorists can use pay-and-display car parks in Eastleigh for free but need a ticket for the pay-on-exit facilities.
In the New Forest Blue Badge holders will be allowed to park for an hour longer than the length of time they actually pay for.
Cllr Paul Vickers, Cabinet member for planning and transport, said: “It’s fair to expect that all car park users should make a contribution towards our car park operating costs.”
The charges are due to be imposed in the 2013-2014 financial year.