A new disability access slope to the Lace Hill estate in Buckingham was officially opened by Mayor Jon Harvey on Monday 16 July, ending an almost four-year long saga.
Back in November 2014, developers Barrett Homes began replacing a temporary ramp that had been in place with permanent steps, in contradiction to the original plans, apparently because a miscalculation had been made regarding the different levels of the land.
It’s unclear why it wasn’t noticed by Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) or the developers at the time that people with restricted mobility wouldn’t be afforded access to the London Road with the installation of steps, but complaints were quickly raised by the community and Buckingham Town Council (BTC).
Mayor Jon Harvey said: “When you build a housing estate, you make it accessible for all.”
This paper first became aware of the issue through the sad story of Jim Jones. Jim, who was in his early 90’s, moved to Buckingham from Lancashire to be closer to his immediate family in the autumn of 2013.
For his first year on the estate, Jim enjoyed relative independence. His daughter-in-law, Joëlle Jones recalls: “Every morning he would make the trip to Tesco via a temporary slope between Cotton End on the Lace Hill estate and London Road to buy a newspaper and pick up a few treats and his medication.”
However, when the steps appeared, Jim was no longer able continue the outings he loved so much.
At the time wheelchair-user and BTC councillor Christine Strain-Clark, who heads up Buckingham and Winslow Access For All, said:
“It’s so important to realise that everybody should have a right to get to the main road.”
Indeed, the lack of a wheelchair-friendly ramp does appear to contravene the 2010 Equalities Act.
Complaints were raised with AVDC throughout 2015 but they insisted that since the estate is a private site, residents had to be consulted. This lead to a resident raising concerns that anti-social behaviour may result from a ramp, setting in motion a stand-off between BTC and AVDC which rumbled on for three years.
In a letter in March 2016, AVDC wrote:
“If Buckingham Town Council is able to show that the footway link has the support of all local residents, then, depending on the timescale, we may be able to look at this.”
BTC Members pointed out that the “support of all local residents” was unlikely.
Councillor Robin Stuchbury said regarding the delays due to an objection:
“They spend a lot of public money on promoting themselves to be disability friendly and this doesn’t sit right. An objection is stopping things. If that was how it worked, we wouldn’t have any new estates built.”
Persistance from BTC eventually led to an agreement that funding could be applied for from the government’s New Homes Bonus scheme. But a catalogue of administrative roadblocks caused several further months of delays.
Finally, funding was granted and on Monday the ramp, which cost £25,946, was unveiled.
A clearly frustrated Jon Harvey said:” I am aghast that It’s taken this long. I think it’s scandalous that somewhere that prides itself on being the home of the Paralympics took so long to provide access for residents with disabilities.”
Tragically, Lace Hill resident Jim Jones, who perhaps suffered the most as a result of this situation, passed away in March 2017.
Councillor Robin Stuchbury commented:
“It is really sad that we never achieved this while Mr Jones was alive - that will always remain a regret.”
Jim Jones’s daughter-in-law, Joëlle said: “We are delighted to see mums and dads with pushchairs, a gentleman on a mobility scooter and several people with walking frames making use of the slope on a daily basis.”
This newspaper, which has covered the campaign from the outset, asked AVDC why this situation took so long to resolve but received no response.
New council leader Angela Macpherson said:
“It’s great that this matter has finally been resolved.
“It’s taken a joint effort from the Town Council, County Councillors, District Councillors and planning officers and I congratulate everyone involved.
“But it shouldn’t have taken this long. On my first day as leader of AVDC, I announced a new cabinet post specifically for planning and enforcement to make sure that matters like this can be dealt with quickly and effectively.”
What do you think? Should the matter have been resolved sooner?