Published: 00:01, 02 September 2016
Medway Council has shown no respect for disabled shoppers by moving the mobility store at the Pentagon Shopping Centre and giving hardly any notice, says a campaigner.
The shop mobility scheme in Chatham is now being run by a private company and disabled shoppers who use the mobility scooters and special wheelchairs will now be charged.
Mobility Hub opened yesterday next to the centre entrance in Military Road near the bus station. The previous collection point was next to the disabled car park in Solomons Road.
Disability campaigner Sue Groves says the new location is too far for disabled shoppers to travel, and claimed the council had not notified service users.
The 52-year-old from Chatham said she only found out about the move after she contacted the council via Twitter to ask a question about the upkeep of the equipment.
She checked the council’s website and found it updated the shop mobility page on Friday afternoon.
The move was not mentioned in the latest edition of the council’s newsletter, Medway Matters, although there was a two-page feature on Christmas shopping.
Mrs Groves said: “It’s a problem because there’s been no consultation, no notice, apart from on their website on 4pm Friday night, which meant people who use the service had two working days notice.
“People could have turned up on Thursday who booked a week in advance and had no knowledge of it.
“For me it’s about consultation, it’s about having some respect for the service users because I think that’s been lacking in this case.
“I understand the need with budget cuts to make changes but they could have handled it a lot better.
“I don’t think that I would have found out if I hadn’t asked a question about the upkeep of the equipment.”
A council spokesman said the move would allow more customers to benefit from the scheme as the hub would be closer to the bus station, but Mrs Groves disagrees.
She said: “The distance people have to go from the disabled car park to the new location is quite significant.
“The car park tends to be used by people who can’t use public transport and now they’ve got to walk further.
“I’m not sure whether it’s because the council are incompetent or if it’s an arrogant disregard for people using the service.
“They forgot to tell us until they did it, it’s like we’re an afterthought.”
Labour group leader and Chatham central councillor Vince Maple said: “Nobody has asked the service users. That gives me real cause for concern.
“We’re trying to be a progressive community and things like this just put us back.
“No one is saying change must never happen but it’s about how the changes are managed.
“Giving service users two working days notice – that’s just not acceptable.
“I think the council have scored a bit of an own goal with this.
“This is a relatively small charge but it may make the difference on them coming to Chatham once or twice a week.”
Chatham MP Tracey Crouch was yesterday (Thursday) due to host a Disability Confident breakfast at the Pentagon centre to give employers the chance to discuss the benefits of employing disabled people.
She also organised an accessible jobs fair in the centre.
Miss Crouch, who is chairman of Medway Council’s Physical Disability Partnership Board, said the first she heard about the move, was when someone contacted her.
She said: “I have written to the council about the move.
“There was no consultation. The whole point of shop mobility is to help people with their mobility and some of them will come in cars.”
She was waiting to hear back from the council.
The spokesman added: “We have been working with Mobility Hub in the Pentagon centre to ensure the smooth transition of the shop mobility scheme.
“As of September 1, the service will no longer be run by the council and a small fee will be introduced in line with similar services offered at shopping centres elsewhere in the country.”
Users will be charged £4 for the first two hours for scooters, and £2 for wheelchairs, and then £1 per hour afterwards.