Parking charges have been introduced for all motorists with disabilities in Rushmoor.
Rushmoor Borough Council’s cabinet members agreed to extend charges to all blue badge holders in its car parks last week following a public consultation and review into the current scheme.
Under the new ‘fairer and simpler’ arrangement, which comes into force in October, blue badge holders will be given double the amount of time they pay for.
The council first began charging non-automatic blue badge holders for parking in April 2012 on a trial basis with the aim of freeing up disabled bays for those who needed them most. Auto-matic badge holders were still able to park for free.
Non-automatic blue badge holders have to undergo an assessment to determine if they qualify, whereas badges are automatically given to eligible drivers such as those claiming the higher rate of disability living allowance.
A review, which included three focus groups with 45 able-bodied and disabled customers and carers, was carried out and found that residents felt the scheme had reduced abuse of disabled bays. Some felt it was fairer but was complicated because of the different charging arrangements. It was concluded that it was more important to blue badge holders to have wide parking bays that were easily accessible than to have free parking.
The environment panel considered three options: free parking for all blue badge holders; to keep the current arrangements but with some improvements to simplify them; or to charge all blue badge holders and to double the time allowed for parking.
The panel felt the latter option would be easier to understand and the scheme was approved by cabinet members on Tuesday last week.
Councillor Roland Dibbs, cabinet member for the environment and service delivery, said: “The review has shown that the scheme could be simpler and blue badge holders are more concerned with having wide and accessible bays than paying for parking. By introducing charges for all, the scheme would be fairer, simpler and would provide income that we could use to improve the accessibility of our car parks.
“We recognise that blue badge holders probably need more time to park, so we are proposing that we double the time they can park for.”
Owen Durrett, chairman of Rushmoor Access Group, which fights for the rights of disabled people, said he understood the changes.
“The priority is for parking to be as close as possible to the venue they’re using and the council has recognised the requirement for extra time,” he said.
“In all the circumstances in the country at the moment, I think it’s fair and reasonable. I would have liked free parking to continue, but taking all the factors into account I wouldn’t be leaping around up in arms. Quite often people with disabilities say we have lots of money to spend so why shouldn’t we be treated equally?”
At the cabinet meeting, members also agreed to continue the council’s 65-plus concession, which allows senior citizens to purchase £50 of parking credit to use in council car parks for £25. The scheme is used by around 500 people every year.