Breakthrough in fight over Norwich disability centre

Mark Harrison, CEO Equal Lives, with protesters at the assessment centre at St Mary's House. Picture

Mark Harrison, CEO Equal Lives, with protesters at the assessment centre at St Mary's House. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

The four-year battle over a disability assessment centre which could not be used by many disabled people appears to have come to an end.

The Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that two ground-floor rooms have finally been opened at the St Mary's House assessment centre in Norwich, after years of sending people as far as Ipswich, King's Lynn and Nottingham.

Mark Harrison, chief executive of the charity Equal Lives which has repeatedly protested about the site, said: 'It should have happened four years ago. I am glad that they are meeting their statutory duty at least, but why did it take this long?'

He claimed it underlined the government's contempt for disabled people, adding that access was only a secondary issue to the campaign to scrap the work capability assessments.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, who held a number of meetings with ministers and officials to push the case for a change, along with former Norwich South MP Simon Wright, said: 'This is good news after a too-long battle and will help many people in Norwich. It responds to the effort of local campaigners and local MPs have been able to help get things done by arguing for constituents' needs with ministers.'

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Ms Smith received a letter from minister Priti Patel, who said: 'I am pleased to be able to tell you that work to provide two additional ground-floor assessment rooms, with supporting facilities, is now complete. These rooms are in addition to the seven assessment rooms located on the second floor.' Maximus, which runs the assessments, estimates that about 10pc of those using the centre needed to be on the ground floor because of the risks of a fire. But it is the Department for Work and Pensions which owns and manages the buildings where most assessments take place.

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