Over the last week the Paralympic Games have gripped the nation and also managed to raise greater awareness about people with disabilities. However, it seems that this has not been fully taken to heart by Chelmsford City Council, who according to an Essex Chronicle reader have recently neglected to cater for the needs of wheelchair users in the city centre.
This week James Leadbeater, a wheelchair user from Old Moulsham, wrote in to the Essex Chronicle (Sept. 6th 2012, page 17) to raise his concerns about the lack of toilet facilities with wheelchair access in the city centre following the 10 week closure of the main public toilets on Market Road for a refurbishment.
While many of the shops on the high street do have facilities for wheelchair users, many are not easily accessible. James points out that the Debenhams toilets are on the top floor, Marks and Spencer have a small facility upstairs, and Chelmsford Star Quadrant have facilities on the first floor. BHS also has its loos upstairs, and WH Smith’s toilets are often out-of-order, or just closed.
The ground floor facilities in town, which are in the High Chelmer and Meadows shopping arcades, are both very busy due to the already high demand. The next disabled toilets are at the Riverside Ice and Leisure centre.
Overall, the facilities on offer in Chelmsford City centre are rather poor according to James Leadbeater. Now that Chelmsford is a city isn’t it time that there were much better facilities?
Well, that is of course the reason for the refurbishment. According to Disabledgo.com, “Chelmsford City Council apologise for any inconvenience caused while we improve the services that will be available to you soon.”
Why are the Market Road Toilets Closed?
On the 21st August the Chelmsford City Council published the follow planning notice for the Public Conveniences on Market Road, Chelmsford, Essex:
Refurbishment and remodelling of Market Road public conveniences including forming new openings, infilling opening, new cladding & surface treatments.
The application seeks full planning permission for the remodelling of the existing toilet block, consisting of the following:-
- Internal remodelling to rationalise the available space and increase (without extension of the building) the size of the mobility garage.
In addition to this committee planning notice, the Chelmsford Area Access Groupalso published details of the proposals in the “Minutes of Committee Meeting, June 18th 2012, Civic Centre“, which include more information:
“two 24 hour unisex toilets and at the back one fully accessible
toilet. The existing accessible toilets do not meet present day regulations.”
There is a note that says:
“They were looking into Portaloos but the ones in Waterloo Road would be spruced up.”
It is not clear why Portaloos have not been erected – James Leadbeater suggested this as a more suitable solution in his letter to the newspaper.
The planning committee’s proposal can be read here: Item 7, Planning Committee, 21st August 2012 (pdf hosted on the Chelmsford.gov.uk website).
There is no mention in the planning committee proposal of the impact of closing the town centre toilets during the refurbishment. The greatest concern appears to be regarding the fate of the trees nearby (Main Issues: 5.2. Impact on trees).
There is no doubt that the Market Road toilets are in need of some modernisation and a general clean up.
For those in a wheelchair that are caught short, there are some other places in town that James Leadbeater did not mention, such as Tesco on Springfield Road and Mothercare at the The Meadows, opposite to Costa Coffee (which also has a disabled toilet on the ground floor). Also, the Waterloo Road facilities are only 300m away.
If you are aware of any other good toilet facilities with disabled access that we have forgotten about, please add a comment below.