A WHEELCHAIR user has accused a council of creating a ‘Berlin Wall’ through the middle of a town centre as lengthy revamp works made areas inaccessible for disabled people.
Darlington man David Mason has initiated civil court action against Hambleton District Council and the contractors carrying out work on its behalf to improve Northallerton high street.
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The extensive works, which started in February last year, saw areas of pavement removed, temporary pedestrian crossings installed and plastic ramps put in place of dropped kerbs during the work.
The work was part of a plan to create a larger town square, new paving along the high street and new street furniture including benches, trees and planters.
But Mr Mason, who is a frequent visitor to Northallerton, said the pavement excavations left roughly-surfaced areas in front of shops with uneven, overly steep ramps that could not be safely used by people in wheelchairs.
He said a temporary crossing installed was inaccessible and risky for wheelchair users and the ‘last straw’ came during a visit to Northallerton in February when he found areas of the High Street completely impassable for wheelchair users.
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He said: “My main complaint was when they removed the light-controlled crossing and replaced it with something that was wheelchair-unsuitable.
“They basically put a Berlin Wall in the middle of the street for wheelchair users; you either park one on side or the other and only shop on the side you’ve parked on, unless you park at the roundabout which is very dangerous to cross.”
In his initial letter of complaint to Hambleton District Council, he said pavement works in front of Katch and Boyes had created an ‘insurmountable hurdle’ for people in wheelchairs.
He said: “This created a steep ramp at each end, on uneven ground, which made it impossible for me to access the High Street beyond that point and the market stalls I intended to use.
“I had to limit my shopping to Lewis and Coopers and then returned to my car.
“I have regarded the wheelchair provision, or lack of it, as a continuing act of discrimination but have put up with it until yesterday, which was the last straw.”
Mr Mason, 73, has used a wheelchair for much of his life after contracting polio as a baby.
He said that when he encountered access problems in Northallerton in February, he spoke to a fellow wheelchair user on the High Street who said she had complained to the council but heard nothing back.
Mr Mason said that pushed him into action.
He said: “I was going to do nothing about it, but then they removed the pavement outside Waterstones and a young lady came along in a wheelchair.
“She said she’d complained but had no response from the council so I thought I would use my legal skills and do something about it.
“I thought I would stand up and speak out for other people, so I wrote to the council and got a very inadequate and patronising reply.”
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Mr Mason said he has been a barrister for more than 40-years and ‘was absolutely prepared’ to take the matter all the way to the County Court.
He is pursuing a claim under the Equality Act, saying that wheelchair users are being discriminated against due to the inaccessibility of areas along the high street during the works.
A Hambleton District Council spokesperson said that due to the ongoing legal action, it would not be appropriate for the authority to comment on the case at this stage.
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