Monday, January 23, 2012

Access Panel

This observer went along to the open meeting of the Nairn Access Panel held in the Community Centre last week. I’ve heard the work of the panel mentioned by Highland Councillors at various debates at Community Council meetings and thought it would be worthwhile to find out more about the Panel’s activities in Nairn. There is information on the responsibilities of Access Panels on the Scottish Disability Equality Forum they state that the panels: “who work for better access for disabled people in their local community. Access Panels consists of local groups of volunteers, including disabled people, carers and people with a genuine interest in access.” You can read more here.

Many Gurnites will know Liz Bow the chair of the panel who was awarded an MBE in the 2010 honours list for her community work. It was Liz who opened the meeting. She explained some of the regular work of the board. They meet every three months with the Highland Council and also have regular meetings with the traffic warden and the police inspector. At the meetings with the Council will be reps from the technical services, planning and the local ranger. The panel also has a yearly access awareness day with primary school children which offers a hands on experience for the youngsters on what it is like to be not so mobile as others yet still be able to lead a very full life. Liz then handed over the meeting to the floor and said she wanted to hear the views of members of the public present.

One gentleman immediately raised the issue of how he travelled to the hospital in his electric buggy via the riverside path and Queenspark but how this was becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous given the deterioration of the footpath next to the skateboard park. He mentioned how his vehicle had almost flipped over. This observer knows exactly the spot the gentleman was talking about, for most of us the potholes in that disintegrating path are an inconvenience, we have to tread carefully or even ride a bicycle up on the grass perhaps but if you are relying on this route as a safe means of going unaided to the hospital in your buggy then you have a major problem to deal with.

This item led on to discussion of the drop-down kerbs opposite the hospital at Queen’s Park and how they were still sometimes over 2 inches from the road surface. Other problems with drop down kerbs where how they could sometimes be even placed next to drains or how people will park next to them blissfully unaware that someone might need to use them on a regular basis. Liz mentioned how the panel had been raising the issue of kerbs with the Council for some time but how in the past issues had been fixed almost immediately but now because of funding constraints things were being prioritised.

There was debate about the long-running issue of the Cawdor Road traffic calming proposals. One individual present thought the existing dangerous situation would be made even worse by the present proposal. Liz told how she thought this issue was going to be fixed when the hospital was built but was still ongoing. She said; “There’s been huge problems and I have to say there have been a lot of excuses being made about who is responsible for what and who’s going to pay for what part, but it’s a kind of eternal triangle but it’s high on the agenda.”

There then was a discussion on paths in the area and the riverside was quoted as an example of how it was difficult or impossible to complete the walks (as more able people are able to do) with out turning back. The situation with the Firhall Bridge was discussed and it remains very much on the group’s wish list and the panel are supportive of Murd Dunbar’s efforts and want to see the situation improved, but it seems the lack of cash will mean that nothing will happen to the Firhall Bridge in the near future. One member of the panel said that if they insisted that the bridge was fixed then there would be no money left for anything else. Maintenance of paths was an issue for the panel too and again the riverside was mentioned here.

There were complaints about the state of the pavement close to the bus station and the meeting was told that it seemed to be a debate about between contractors and the Council about who was responsible for the situation. It was expressed that someone might break a leg soon.

There is an ongoing attempt to improve access to the beaches on both sides of the harbour with hopes of a 6m square platform being placed on the West Beach near the existing ramp and an improved path between the Bailey Bridge and the East Pier. Seumas told the meeting how Graham Marsden was providing help there. Attempts to obtain funding have now moved away from the more complicated Leader system to a lottery application.

Shortly the Access Panel will be presenting a business in the High Street with an award to the premises that has done the most to demonstrate a positive attitude to helping those with disability enter their establishment. The shortlist is being discussed and the award will be announced soon.

The meeting was an enlightening experience for this observer and I was impressed with the level of commitment the volunteers of the panel give to their work. Well done the members of the Access Panel! Another example of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes all over Nairn that helps make our town such a decent place to live.

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