Opinion with Christine Tongue: Some ‘Levelling Up’ in our streets to create access for all

Christine waiting for the Viking Bay lift to be repaired and the inadequate walkway in Broadstairs

There’s government money around for poorer bits of the UK and Thanet has the chance to get hold of some of it. Lucky us. Somehow it’s been decided that Ramsgate will probably get a big chunk of the Thanet allocation.

But how is it to be spent?

You won’t be surprised to learn that consultants have been called in to help. I mean, nobody local could possibly have the skills to talk to fellow residents and ask them what they want.

I went to the first drop in, which was about accessibility for disabled people. It was all a bit last minute as Access Thanet, our local disability campaign group, only heard about it from a member in Margate, but being disabled we do have time for afternoon meetings, so two of us went along. As far as I could see there were nine people altogether, five people with disabilities or carers of disabled people, three consultants and councillor.

This initiative is called “levelling up”.

Good access at Westbrook

Unfortunately one of the group of disabled people thought that “levelling up” meant that literally – as in flattening Thanet. This would be ideal for anyone in a wheelchair or who finds steps difficult. But no! It means working out how we deprived areas can get to the same level of prosperity as more affluent regions.

But we had the ear of the consultants so we ploughed on.

We had lots of complaints and lots of good ideas. For wheelchair users, our streets are full of potholes, narrow pavements and a terrible lack of dropped kerbs, or broken dropped kerbs. One contributor had been tipped out of her wheelchair with a dropped kerb that had crumbled and become a pothole. She thought that a very simple measure would be to give each dropped kerb a number so damaged or blocked ones could be reported.

Dropped kerbs are very controversial in the world of disability. Wheelchairs can’t climb kerbs or steps anywhere. So, crossing roads becomes impossible if there are no dropped kerbs on each side. Same problem for anyone with a baby in a pushchair. But an adult in a powered wheelchair is a much heavier proposition, and is probably in the wheelchair because their bones are painful or vulnerable, or in the wrong place. So any shaking or bumping on obstructions, is very unwelcome.

Neither wheelchair users or stick users like cobbles, they shake us and trip us up and are generally a pain. And, as it turns out, it’s not even an historic feature of Thanet! People think they’re historic and picturesque but the pains, to me, much outweigh any picturesqueness.

Same with listed buildings. I was once told by a cafe that they couldn’t put in a handrail on the stairs to their basement section – where the toilets were – because the building was “listed”. I suggested answers, rope with attachments to the wall etc, but in my head I was vowing never to go again.

That’s what consultants need to take onboard: the disabled and elderly are a large potential market for Thanet and would flock here if they felt welcome.

We want access to our beaches, lifts that work, walkways across the sand, handrails into the sea so people who find walking hard or lose their balance easily can get into the waves. We’ve seen good infrastructure in European resorts, (even Turkey does it better than us) and we want it here.

Increased visitor numbers means more income for our towns. Make our transport, beaches and facilities accessible and welcoming for all ages and abilities and do a bit of real levelling up in our streets, and we won’t have to worry about being poor and deprived.

But what we suspect might happen is a lick of paint for shopfronts, a lot of lip service commitment to consulting disabled people for the future. And, almost certainly, lot of money spent on consultants.

Christine Tongue is a member of disability campaign group Access Thanet

20 Comments

  1. Christine, your views are so correct.
    It will be sticking plasters, a coat of gloss paint , salaries for extra administrators and fat earnings for consultants.

  2. Well said, Christine.
    It seems that the needs of residents and visitors to Broadstairs are almost entirely negelected by TDC when applying for these government grants
    It is possible for a few runabout buses to be designed for those less able to get on to them – dropped entrances? Also their interiors could be far more wheelchair and pram friendly

  3. The funding Christine refers to is allocated based on an area’s deprivation ranking. Broadstairs is nowhere near as deprived as Ramsgate. This has been explained repeatedly. Is it really that hard to grasp?

  4. I have 30 years top 4 management consultancy experience in the U
    N the EC and world bank and NHS.why would I as a TDC tax doner be considered qualified?

  5. Hopefully Thanet will get a decent wedge of the levelling up funds, currently tdc is tendering for specialist Consultancy Services company (tender cost £45k).

    Hopefully the selected consultancy services company will be a local company who understand thanet issues.

    Why tdc keep spending our council tax on consultancy services & feasibility studies why not ask the locals ?
    bidstats.uk thanet

  6. Thank God we do not have any mountains in Thanet or some disabled person would be complaining that they do not have access to them.

    It is a sad fact of life that if you have disabilities, there are some things you just cannot do. That is what the word means. If you can do everything and go everywhere then you are not disabled !

    And before I get accused of being unfeeling and unsympathetic – just let me mention that I am registered disabled too . . .

    • There is a wheelchair route and a train up Mount Snowdon so if Thanet had a mountain, I’d be lobbying for that ! Why not?

    • Claiming to be “registered disabled” does not in anyway allow you to talk or invalidate the feelings of others.

      I think everyone would agree that there are points where spending on accessibility vs the demand for whatever it maybe would be too great but so many simple things are forgotten.

      It also depends on your disability on how qualified you are to talk on it. Some people cannot do simple things like take their child to Tesco’s because they don’t have adequate changing facilities for anything but a small baby. On this front the industry is getting better. Shops and tourist locations are turning away millions from disabled families by not doing simple things to make disabled children, young adults and adults welcome.

      The ignorance in saying “ you can’t do some things because you are disabled” Especially when talking about beach lifts or simple changes and plenty of people with disabilities climb mountains.

      Unfortunately the local council and especially the Tory government have the same discriminatory outlooks as this little man.

      • Not impressed,your final paragraph is so correct sadly more and more people feel the way local council and Government do they are known as ableists the Conservatives have always considered disabled people a liability and no doubt will continue to do so

  7. Trouble is with all this levelling up when things are finally put in place for disabled people who will be the first to use them?yep able bodied people have seen it so often

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