Access problems in Bury St Edmunds town centre for those with mobility issues highlighted by disgruntled resident
Where do you turn if bins block a pavement, there is no dropped kerb or A-boards clutter the street scene?
These are probably questions you have never answered if you are able to walk around Bury St Edmunds town centre, but could cause serious challenges if you have mobility issues.
Peter Fuller, 70, of Vinery Road, spoke out last week after temporary ramp near the old post office collapsed as he went over it on his mobility scooter.
On Tuesday, Peter took me for a walk around the town so I could see first-hand some of the issues he and others using mobility scooters or wheelchairs face.
I meet Peter and his wife Christine outside Boots, on Cornhill, where they point out a dropped kerb blocked by a legitimately parked car, while the dropped kerb on the opposite side of the road is blocked by cars illegally parked in a prohibited bay.
“There is another dropped kerb by the old post office but it has been partially stopped off since the works started there,” says Peter. “This is the first time I have ever been to the press with an issue but this is not just about me, it is for everyone in a scooter or with mobility issues.”
With no way of getting across the road, Peter has to undertake a three point turn on his scooter and go down to Iceland to cross the road.
“The town is in two halves,” he says. “The new part – the arc – was designed to take into account those with mobility issues and as a result we have hardly any problems there at all: shops have level access, there is lovely flat access at the Apex, moving about in there is fine and they allow your carer to go free of charge.”
It is a different story in the ‘old’ town centre for Peter, who has primary progressive multiple sclerosis and has used his scooter for four years.
“When I was able to walk I gave it no thought at all,” says Peter. “I have lived in the town for many years and know where to go, but a visitor would not have the same idea.”
We pass the Corn Exchange, where a hole in the road by the dropped kerb has been there ‘for months’.
Heading into The Traverse, scaffolding outside a shop and a bollard in the centre of the pavement force Peter’s scooter into the road – a road meant only for taxis and delivery vehicles but frequently used by prohibited motorists as a cut-through.
As we move back towards Cornhill, Peter points out shops and restaurants he cannot visit due to inadequate access, such a Sakura – which has steps – and Sahara Boutique – which has level access however one of its double doors is shut when we pass.
When we arrive at the top of St John’s Street – one of the worst areas in town, according to Peter – I can see why he might have a problem.
The area is littered with A-boards, a large floral planter, an electricity cabinet and cycle racks.
Peter says: “In years gone by the A-boards were taken away by the authorities but it doesn’t happen anymore. I describe this as one of my ‘grot spots’.”
Peter then takes me to Churchgate Street – along the way pointing out the shabby street scene, uneven paving, blocked dropped kerbs outside Moyse’s Hall Museum and Marks and Spencer and a proliferation of A-boards and café tables on pavements – to show me a particular problem area at the junction with Athenaeum Lane.
There are no dropped kerbs for the junction, so when Peter and Christine visit the cathedral refectory he is forced to leave the pavement at a dropped kerb on to Churchgate Street and then drive his scooter in the road – directly into incoming one-way traffic – until the next dropped kerb near Angel Lane.
“When you want to support the High Street but barriers like this are put in the way then you can’t do it and you turn to the internet – and you start to understand why so many people are doing that,” says Peter.
“I used to come into town every Saturday and I now look for excuses not to, as it is not a pleasant experience,” says Peter, adding that West Suffolk Council’s 2017 town centre masterplan talked about reparing and maintaining pavements with appropriate materials and optimising access by addressing dropped kerbs, street clutter, surfacing and access to shops and businesses.
“The intention was to make experiencing the town centre more pleasurable for all. Little appears to have been done since the adoption of the plan,” he adds.
A Suffolk Highways spokesman said they would review the concerns about the condition of the highway and bollards around Bury town centre and encouraged residents to report concerns directly via its online reporting tool.
“If any defects are found which meet the criteria set out in our highway maintenance operational plan, these works will be ordered,” they added.
West Suffolk Council was approached for comment.