Penarth Town Council’s planning committee – considering Network Rail’s plans to refurbish the historic Victorian footbridge bridge over the Cardiff/Barry line at Cogan station – is recommending that disabled access to the station should be improved .
The refurbishment plans were first reported by PDN last month (see https://tinyurl.com/yajbvmv7 ) and would involve repair and refurbishment of the existing pedestrian bridge which links the two platforms.
It came up at the end of a long session – a point in the proceedings when the committee members were looking forward to getting home and putting their feet up.
All that was necessary was for the committee to rubber-stamp a routine recommendation for a Network Rail scheme to restore the Victorian footbridge linking the two platforms at Cogan Station….But it was then that Deputy Mayor of Penarth, Cllr Jon Luxton, – who is a wheelchair user – threw a spanner in the works .
Cllr Luxton noted that there was nothing in the planning application or the restoration plans to make the historic Grade II listed bridge accessible for people with wheelchairs. “Are they just going to leave the steps there?” he asked . “We ought to be fixing it “ – he said .
The chairman Cllr Nigel Humphrey asked Cllr Luxton “What would you see them [i.e. Network Rail] do then? ”
Cllr Luxton retorted “Put ramps over it!”.
Cllr Humphrey patiently explained to Cllr Luxton ” Planning is not retrospective. This is an existing bridge.”
However Cllr Luxton was not in the least phased by Cllr Humphrey’s comment. He doggedly re-iterated that Network Rail should be fixing the bridge and making “a proper job of it” .Cllr Luxton said “It’s crazy. That station is the bind of some people’s lives – to get to the other side “.
The Town Clerk rallied to Cllr Humphrey’s corner and said she imagined there would already be a set budget in place for this particular project.
Cllr Luxton wasn’t swallowing that. “It’s an accessibility issue” – he said – “It’s the Equality Act that I’m concerned with” [ i.e. the legislation which requires access for disabled people to public buildings and facilities ] . If they [Network Rail] are making changes, they should make it accessible. Cllr Luxton said he was not saying it was a “winnable case – but surely it’s an ethical case“.
Deputy planning chairman Cllr Mike Cuddy (Labour St Augustines) came up with an alternative course of action – which sounded suspiciously like filing Cllr Luxton’s proposals in a drawer marked “long grass”.
Cllr Cuddy said that in a recent “City Deal” paper to the council there was a call for a “wish list” of improvements . He said it would be interesting to see if disabled access was actually in the list for potential future works at Cogan Station. Many, many, stations he said were in the same position [on disabled access] as Cogan.
However Cllr Luxton already had the figures at his fingertips. He said “20% of stations are inaccessible” [to disabled people] he said – noting that “the Disability Discrimination Act was passed in 1995 and yet we have hardly improved since then”.
The Town Clerk proposed that the planning committee should state in its formal observation to the Vale of Glamorgan Council on the Cogan Station footbridge refurbishment that “We would like to see full accessibility looked at”.
Cllr Luxton wasn’t satisfied with that. He demanded the council go further. He said Network Rail should be asked for their plan and “the budget associated with it” . Warming to his point Cllr Luxton said that- paradoxically – the current legislation required that railway ticket offices had to be accessible to disabled people – but actual trains did not.
Cllr Humphrey – in the chair – ruled that there was no legitimate planning reason to object to Network Rail’s proposals. He proposed that the committee should say it had no objection to the proposed works on the rail footbridge – but it could add that ‘disabled access is inadequate’ and that there should be “proposals to address that”. With some members looking at the clock, the planning committee so agreed.
PDN Note: The well-publicised case of a disabled wheelchair user who was injured when his wife attempted to take him the “long way around” to reach the opposite platform at Cogan was reported by PDN in March 2015 on https://tinyurl.com/p3mzoy4