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Maidenhead shopmobility service will be 'shadow of what it was', meeting told

A charity which helps people with mobility issues will be ‘a shadow of what it was’ amid a Maidenhead regeneration scheme, a meeting was told this week.

A meeting of the council’s disability and inclusion forum yesterday (Monday) heard from Peter Haley, chief executive of People to Places, who cast doubt over the future usage of its shopmobility service if the redevelopment of the Nicholsons Centre gets the green light.

The service allows people with mobility issues to go shopping around Maidenhead and includes the hire of equipment.

Major redevelopment plans were submitted by developer Areli in May to transform the shopping centre, and includes the relocation of the existing car park in Broadway.

Vice-chairman of the forum Lisa Hughes told members attending the Zoom meeting that both blue badge and shopmobility spaces are on the bottom floor of the car park as we see it today, level with the shops.

But she said the situation in the new car park is ‘substantially worse’, with shopmobility spaces planned on the second floor, and blue badge spots on the third and fourth.

“The plans were submitted without due regard for the needs of people with disabilities or any communication with relevant organisations,” Lisa said.

“You will have to go through the door and somehow manoeuvre yourself 180 degrees to get into the lifts.

“There are no blue badge or shopmobility spaces on the ground floor. The ceiling height is too low to allow some of the People to Places minibuses. There is no drop-off being proposed.

“The situation in the new car park is substantially worse than the current facilities.

“None of us come here [to the meeting] just to talk and raise issues – and not expect that a difference is going to be made.”

The meeting was told that the forum had formally objected to the planning application.

When asked for his view, Mr Haley said the alterations could turn away up to 6,000 people from Maidenhead each year.

“We could be pushing people away - away from Maidenhead,” he said.

“Before COVID-19, we were running about 6,000 visits to Maidenhead every year, that is 6,000 people spending money in the town centre.

“Do we really want to be turning away that level of input?

“The future was looking bright, but we have not shared this information with members yet – they will be very concerned about it.

“The service will be there, but it will just be a shadow of what it was.”

Barbara Richardson, managing director of the RBWM Property Company, advised before the car park issue was raised that the shopmobility service would be moved to the West Street car park whilst works on the Nicholsons are underway, subject to planning.

Also discussed at the meeting were highways and pavements in Maidenhead, most notably the planned works to the train station forecourt.

Ben Smith, head of commissioning and infrastructure at the council, said this area will be transformed from a ‘car park’ into an ‘open’, ‘level access’ area.

More pedestrian space, a new taxi rank, four short stay drop-off and pick-up points and a new bus stop on the A308 will be provided.

There will also be six disabled parking bays.

Mr Smith was quizzed on whether these bays would be time restricted, with Cllr Carole Da Costa (WWRA, Clewer & Dedworth East) saying ‘you have got to be able to park there without restriction’ due to some people attending all-day appointments in London or Reading.

Cllr John Bowden (Con, Eton and Castle) said that the move would ‘restrict the local users’.

Mr Smith told members he would confirm whether the disabled parking bays are subject to time restrictions.

He added: “I can look at that, and whether it is straightforward to have a mix of two that could be all-day, and the other four could be limited turnover.”

Another issue raised by the forum was the presence of trees on the train station side of the road, near a crossing on the A308.

Lisa Hughes said: “It beggars belief that it is OK to have trees at the point of a crossing.

“It feels like the needs of people with disabilities have come below the needs of traffic and trees.”

Mr Smith advised there were some ‘stringent conditions’ for the trees to be retained.

Suggestions from forum members that trees could be replanted on the station forecourt were told by Mr Smith that it had ‘not been possible to agree anything of that nature with Network Rail and Great Western Railway’, the land owners.

In response to the Nicholson Quarter car park concerns, an Areli spokeswoman said:

“The Nicholson Quarter regeneration proposals, including the new town centre car park, are fully compliant with all relevant national policy and British Standards relating to disabled people and access.

"The car park proposals include 60 Blue Badge parking bays, which is more than the existing town centre car park, a Shopmobility centre, disabled WC and a changing places facility.

"The council's disability and inclusion forum have made a number of very constructive suggestions to improve accessibility even further and we are actively engaging with them to consider these further.”

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