£17k to make Peterborough council offices accessible for disabled staff after flaws revealed

Around £17,000 has been paid to make Peterborough City Council’s new offices more accessible for staff with disabilities after a number of flaws were revealed.

Saturday, 1st May 2021, 2:07 pm

The council moved into Sand Martin House at Fletton Quays in September 2018 where it became the anchor tenant of the multi-million pound regeneration of Peterborough’s South Bank.

But despite insisting that the premises were “built to current standards at the time,” 11 months later it carried out an access audit which recommended 89 remedial actions.

In total 10 “high risk” issues which needed to be addressed “as a matter of priority” were highlighted in the audit. These included a lack of public transport to the building, kitchens which were “not accessible” due to the height of the worktops and an emergency exit which could not be fully opened.

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Sand Martin House EMN-190919-225721009
Sand Martin House EMN-190919-225721009

The council was also warned that it could be seen as “discriminatory” that sanitary towel dispensing machines had been installed in female toilets, but not in the accessible toilet.

Other issues raised included:

. Wheelchair users unable to open doors due to release buttons being too high and blocked by a bin/fire extinguisher

. No lift access within the Engine Shed, making it inaccessible to go above the ground floor for people unable to use the stairs

Sand Martin House EMN-190919-225603009

. Some items sold at the tuck shop being out of reach for wheelchair users

. Touchscreens to book meeting rooms being too high for wheelchair users and in a style which “cannot be used by blind and partially sighted people”

. Pigeon holes at the post station which were out of reach

. No induction loops in meeting or training rooms.

The audit also stated that “the orientation of the building and its entrances on the site is confusing and does not seem logical,” with the main public entrance facing a different direction to where most people enter it from.

Prominent disability rights campaigner Julie Fernandez, a former project development manager at Disability Peterborough, said: “As a disabled person and a full time wheelchair user I have been working in the field of disability equality and rights for over 30 years and it saddens and disappointments me that the government, local councils and the business community are still treating disabled people as an afterthought.

“The purple pound is worth (pre-Covid) £249 billion a year in the UK. If that isn’t an incentive to make places of work, shops and the local council accessible then I’m not sure what will.

“Disabled people and their families have a right to access goods and services in the same way as their non-disabled counterparts do. We are living through a pandemic and it is incredibly important for us to support our local business community, but how can we do that when many of them including the council are so incredibly slow at making their premises and websites accessible to us?”

The council leases Sand Martin House from Legal and General and under the agreement is liable for all maintenance costs.

It said it carried out the audit “due to some employees needing special requirements” while insisting that the building was “compliant” with standards.

While changes have been made to support members of staff, the building can be visited by members of the public who may have disabilities.

A council spokesperson said: “If a person has access requirements and has an appointment the team arranging these meetings put support measures in place and would advise at the time.”

One of the “high risk” and “priority” issues in the audit, carried out by About Access Ltd, was a lack of public transport to the building, with the nearest bus stops being approximately 500m away.

The council was urged to “talk to local transport providers to encourage them to include Sand Martin House in their routes”.

Asked what progress had been made on this, a spokesperson said there are “no current plans” for public transport to serve Fletton Quays.

Another one of the urgent issues was signposting, with the building entrance facing away from where the majority of visitors approach it, either from the car parks or London Road.

This is expected to change once the rest of Fletton Quays - which includes hundreds of apartments - is completed, but until that point the council was urged to provide external signage to direct people where to go.

In total, the changes made by the council following the audit cost £16,820 plus VAT.

Asked why it did not carry out the access audit before Sand Martin House was built, a spokesperson replied: “The building was built to current standards at the time and signed off by all involved.

“We’re a tenant to this building and as such would have had to review for our individual staff needs for any work access arrangements for working.

“Following the last audit, a review was carried out and some internal changes were made to the building to support colleagues within the workplace.”

The audit states that “reasonable adjustments” have to be made to “remove physical or any other types of barrier that could make it difficult or impossible for disabled customers to use or access the services or information being provided”.

It stresses that “the duty to make changes is anticipatory,” and that the organisation “must think in advance about how people who have impairments may be affected in accessing their services and what could be done to remove any barriers”.

It adds: “No single action will guarantee that a building meets the requirements of the Equality Act,” and that it is unable to “indicate whether a building or site complies with the legislation” as there are no statutory guidelines on building design.