The footpaths that connect a supported living home in Aylesbury to local amenities are almost impassable, causing residents to fear going out, The Bucks Herald has discovered.
Last week we visited Waterside House on Taylor Road in Aylesbury having been contacted by concerned resident Kirsten Read and the deputy manager Donna Lancaster regarding the terrible state of the paths for wheelchair users.
Kirsten, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, and who is also registered blind, wrote in a letter sent to us:
“I am complaining about the big bumps on the path. I have back pain and it makes it worse when I have to go over the bumps in my wheelchair. Big bumps near the duck pond, nearly made my chair tip a bit and I could have fallen out! It makes me feel anxious and jumpy when there are bumps...”
We took a trip out with a group from Waterside House and it soon became clear that Kirsten's words were accurate.
As our pictures show, the pavements surrounding Waterside House are in such poor condition that in places they are difficult for anyone to navigate.
The unevenness of the paths is not the only issue facing the determined residents of Waterside. At one point we saw Marianne, who assists Kirsten with her wheelchair, walking in the middle of the road with Kirsten. When we inquired why, she explained that it is because the drop-curbs for the wheelchair are not opposite each other, meaning that in order to cross the road there is no choice but to travel about 100 yards on the road itself.
Further along our journey, Marianne also pointed out a crossing point on a blind bend that cars come around at high speed.
We showed the photos we took to Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS) and they responded with the following comments:
“BuDS is horrified by the state of these pavements. As a disability charity with an access project, we keep an close eye on these issues and these pavements are some of the worst we have seen in an urban area. Everyone including disabled people are entitled to live an independent life and it’s wrong that the highways authority is putting this barrier in the way of multiple wheelchair-users wanting to live an ordinary life. The pavement clearly hasn’t been maintained and is unsafe for everyone, not just disabled people. BuDS calls on Bucks CC to remember its Public Sector Equality Duty, which requires it to actively anticipate the needs of disabled people and make reasonable adjustments for them. In this case, highways repairs are clearly urgently needed”.
What we experienced left us in no doubt that a short trip to the local shops is at best extremely dangerous and stressful for the residents of Waterside House.
Marianne told us regarding the impact it has on Kirsten: “She's generally in tears by the time we get to Tesco.”
Upon our return to Waterside House, we asked the residents what they thought of the situation. Benny Hutton, 32, who uses a wheelchair, said: “Especially as we're so close to the birth place of the Paralympics, I think it's disgusting."
When we asked what they wanted, it was resident Tom Harding, 29, who perhaps provided the most telling response. He simply said: “Safety.”
We sent our findings to Bucks County Council, who provided the following statement:
“Transport for Buckinghamshire (TfB) appreciates that there is, in certain areas, a legacy of difficult access sites, particularly on some estate roads which have been there for over 60 years. Many improvement schemes are delivered through funding sources such as Members' Funds or the Local Area Forum - soon to be changing to Community Boards through the new Buckinghamshire Council - to improve footways, including dropped kerb provisions. TfB is reviewing current funding in this area. The Local Area Technician is more than happy to discuss specific areas of concern, and would support improvements where funding is available, as long as a safe location is feasible. Where we install new schemes, we need to take into consideration the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), to improve accessibility for all. If your reader wishes to call our customer service centre leaving their contact details, we will ensure that someone gets in touch with them. https://www.buckscc.gov.uk/services/contact-and-complaints/contact-us/”
The support services at Waterside House are provided by the charity Seeability. You can find out more about them here: www.seeability.org.
Emily, who is blind and a member of the Associate team at Seeability, says: “I’m passionate about ensuring the community is safe and accessible for everyone and the pavements in Aylesbury are a real life example of how something as simple as pavement upkeep can limit people’s independence."