Welwyn Hatfield Council to charge disabled drivers

DISABLED drivers will continue to be forced to pay to use Welwyn Hatfield Council-run car parks, despite the Local Government Ombudsman urging councillors to reconsider.

The council began charging disabled visitors in April 2010 ahead of the introduction of automatic numberplate recognition technology, which came into force in November.

The new machines cannot differentiate between disabled and non-disabled drivers and, therefore, everyone gets charged.

The ombudsman criticised the council stating it had not given enough consideration to the Equalities Act 2010.

Welwyn Hatfield’s seven cabinet members will again discuss the issue on Tuesday night (September 6).

The officer’s report states: “If the decision is reversed with regards to charging all car park users, including all blue badge holders, then the original budget saving of �60,000 would be lost.”

The original decision to charge blue badge holders for parking was slammed by disability groups as they felt it meant those who were less able would inevitably be charged more for parking as they required more time to complete their visit to the town centre.

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The report continued: “The charging of blue badge holders would be acceptable if the council ensured disabled bays in the car park were retained in the nearest and best positions to reduce time from payment to vehicle access.

“A person would have 20 minutes grace to return to the car and leave the car park after paying at the machine.”

The cabinet is expected to agree to the recommendations and continue charging blue badge holders.