Something has to change - that was the message from key decision makers in Peterborough after discovering first hand the difficulties of reaching the city centre from the train station if you are disabled.
Spending more than an hour in a wheelchair navigating the ramps, lifts, slopes and crossings which make shopping here so difficult for so many proved to be an eye opening experience for executives at two of the city’s biggest shopping centres, as well as the two men responsible for development in the city.
One of those, Cllr Peter Hiller, cabinet member for growth, planning, housing and economic development, said: “I’m very sympathetic to the needs of disabled people, both from a personal point of view and from a commercial perspective.
“People are coming into the city and can’t access the main shopping centre.
“I will certainly be lobbying for changes. Having had it demonstrated to me I had not realised the impediment for disabled, blind and partially sighted people.
“I also understand RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) now have their headquarters in Midgate and there is dialogue with Queensgate’s owners Invesco. If we can support that in any way we will.”
Last Thursday’s trip to the station saw the assembled party - including the Peterborough Telegraph - attempt to navigate three routes into the city centre, either using a wheelchair or glasses that replicated the limited visibility of people with impaired vision.
The first was up a ramp and into the lift in the Yellow Car Park near the station, before going across the footbridge into Queensgate.
The second involved going through the pedestrian crossings on Bourges Boulevard near the rusty sculpture, and the third was through the subway heading towards Cowgate and Priestgate, which has a steep slope to contend with at the end.
For users of the second option, the route into Queensgate would involve going to Westgate, as the entrance via Bourges Boulevard requires going up stairs.
Mark Broadhead, centre director at Queensgate, said there has been talks of a ramp being put in at the Bourges Boulevard entrance for wheelchair users.
He acknowledged that a “solution needs to be found” to the access for people with disabilities, adding: “I was always hopeful about the ramp and confident it could be delivered. If that’s not the case we will have to look at other options. There’s a great dialogue between the owners and the council and it’s something that will come on the agenda shortly.”
Simon Machen, the council’s corporate director for growth and regeneration, said the authority will consider different options alongside Queensgate for the Bourges Boulevard entrance, including the possibility of a lift. He added: “We have infrastructure designed in the development corporation days. It did not take into account disabled users. We are going to try and undo some of the work of the development corporation.
“There are a number of existing routes into the city centre from the station, all of which have challenges for people with disabilities.
“We are committed to working with those user groups to find a solution. We have done a lot in the city centre and there’s still more to do.”
Cllr John Fox, who was co-ordinator of Shopmobility in Peterborough for 15 years, which lends wheelchairs to disabled shoppers, said improvements had been made in recent years, with more drop kerbs, disabled bays and tougher enforcement on blue badge abuse.
But he added: “We want visitors coming to Peterborough to see what we have to offer. We need to make it a lot easier to get off the train and into the city centre and Queensgate. People have seen for themselves the difficulty. If they can’t see it’s got to change, are they doing their job? It’s clearly a problem and we have to find a solution.”