Disabled campaigners claim Norwich parking victory

Campaigners for disabled people have claimed their actions prompted Norwich City Council to rethink what it charges blue badge holders to park in the city's car parks.

Just before Christmas, Norwich City Council announced it was changing its car parking charges so users who hold blue badges get an hour's free parking for every hour they buy.

The council said that was because they had reviewed the new Equality Act which came into force in October 2010, but five disabled people who made a claim for compensation from City Hall believe it was because of their actions.

Helen Dolphin, who lives in Norwich, is the director of policy and campaigns at Ashwellthorpe-based charity Mobilise, which campaigns for disabled motorists.

When the city council changed its policy in its council car parks in 2009, the charity said it had not taken into account that it takes disabled people longer to park and shop.

Mrs Dolphin, who is a multiple amputee, having contracted meningococcal septicaemia when she was struck down with meningitis aged 22, contacted solicitors Wake Smith & Tofields after she discovered they had successfully raised the issue with a council in Lincolnshire.

Four more disabled people from Norfolk joined Mrs Dolphin in the campaign and the solicitors threatened legal action against the city council, while also claiming compensation.

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However, the legal action was dropped when the city council announced it would be offering the free hours for blue badge holders.

Mrs Dolphin, 35, said: 'The council had been claiming that its policy was fair because disabled people could afford to pay just like everybody else, which was true.

'But that didn't take into account that some disabled people take longer to get around and do their shopping, so it wasn't fair.

'We were all prepared to go to court if we'd had to and I believe that is why the council backed down.' She said the new policy was fair, but that she would rather see Norwich follow Cambridge's lead in offering three hours free for blue badge holders.

However, the city council, while confirming it was in talks with five people who made a claim for compensation, said it was the review of the new Equality Act which triggered the change.

A spokeswoman for Norwich City Council said: 'It is clear that some disabled people may need more time to complete their activities in the city and the council has a duty under the new act to make reasonable adjustments.

'Car park users who hold blue badges will get an hour's free parking for every hour they buy. If they are buying four hours they will get the whole day.

'We believe our actions have been fair, timely and reasonable and we are confident we have listened to disabled people and paid due regard to disability law.

'No legal action has been taken by Mobilise or anyone else against Norwich City Council. Five people have made a claim for compensation, which we are discussing with them.'