A Thanet resident who launched a petition asking the district council to make repairs to and reopen the Viking Bay and East Cliff lifts says he will continue to campaign until they are open all year around.
Barry Stickings, whose son Toby is blind, told councillors at a meeting last Thursday (June 3) that just under 4,000 people have now signed his petition which he initially launched after ‘permanently closed’ signs were placed on both lifts in April.
Thanet council has since removed the signs and pledged that repairs should see Viking Bay’s lift open by June 21. Ramsgate’s East Cliff lift has proved more problematic due to structural damage suffered after thieves stripped lead from the roof.
Mr Stickings told councillors that news of the Viking Bay lift reopening was positive but highlighted the lack of real disabled access, particularly in Broadstairs.
He said: “We need the lifts designated for disabled people and open 365 days a year. We have to spend that money or we are denying people with disabilities access to the beaches and lower areas.
“The petition will grow and I won’t stop until the day I hear the lifts at Broadstairs and Ramsgate are open permanently not just for the summer season.
“That would be a fantastic step forward.”
Ward councillor Ruth Bailey (Independent) thanked Mr Stickings and Access Thanet disability campaigners for their work to persuade Thanet council to get the lifts working again.
She said: “As a ward councillor, I was very pleased to hear that the earlier proposal to close the lift permanently has now been re-thought thanks in the main to this petition and people power. Well done to Mr Stickings, Access Thanet and all the campaigners and supporters.
“We really should have seen this coming as, during a council meeting back in 2019, I called for money to be found to upgrade and regularly maintain this lift as it was constantly failing even then, disenfranchising the elderly and disabled.
“While these repairs are very welcome, and will make a big difference to a lot of people this summer, I think that longer term this essential lift needs completely replacing. This, of course, would cost a significant amount of money and I think that we need to start making plans now to find appropriate funding sources.
“Various Broadstairs Town organisations I’ve spoken to are very willing to be involved with any proposal to achieve this. Its a shame that Broadstairs was not deemed eligible for a share of the Levelling Up Fund to pay for a replacement lift, and other beach infrastructure, but can I take this opportunity now to call for a concerted effort to find a suitable funding stream to ensure the longevity of the lift going forward for future decades.”
Former Cabinet member Steve Albon said the lifts were important for the disabled community but also for families using prams/pushchairs.
He said the ‘permanently closed’ signs should not have been installed and the council was hopeful for Viking Bay to get its lift back in action on June 21.
But he added: “The Ramsgate lift suffered serious structural damage following the illegal removal of lead from the roof.”
He said the lift shaft is now bent and was being surveyed to see how much repairs would cost. He added: “The council currently has to find the money for repairs of both lifts. We have some hard work to do.”
Former deputy council leader Helen Whitehead was thanked by Mr Stickings for her contact with him over the lift issue.
During the meeting she said the lift issue had always been ‘a priority’ and as someone with inflammatory arthritis and connective tissue disorder she was aware of the access issues. However, she said, the issue would be finding a solution that was long-term.
Following last week’s meeting she added: “”I’d like to thank Mr. Stickings for acknowledging how hard we worked to get the lifts surveyed and repaired, and look forward to both Broadstairs and Ramsgate having their long term futures secured.
“As discussed with Mr. Stickings, a Cabinet report discussing costings and repairs and long term plans was commissioned earlier in the Spring, and will come to the new Cabinet soon, and I look forward to future discussions and plans to ensure that access is a priority.”
Thanet Independent councillor Stuart Piper said the issue of funding needed to be explored more imaginatively, not just by Thanet council but also town and parish authorities.
“We could try and seek donations from all the local councils to go into a central council pot and possibly have a Thanet-wide lift lottery scheme. People would buy tickets, gradually building a pot of money for ongoing maintenance.” Clr Piper also suggested a coordinated gofundme appeal could be launched.
Mr Stickings says ‘the battle goes on, adding: “I feel that TDC should fund the lifts not the public as this is not a long term solution. TDC should maybe look towards National Lottery funding. But these are early days
“I would like TDC to give us the public a full and comprehensive breakdown of the costs involved so we the community can fully understand what the financial situation really is.
I will be contacting the new Conservative head of TDC to provide this information.”