A MASS rally of people who use mobility aids such as wheelchairs, mobility scooters and walking sticks, are blind or deaf, who push pushchairs, or who struggle in other ways to negotiate the city’s pavements will take place outside Wells Town Hall on December 7.
The ‘Proper Pavements for Wells’ rally aims to demonstrate the strength of feeling about the need for civic leaders to take action to make the pavements safer, especially for less able users.
The event will see the handing over to local authorities of copies of a survey on the suitability of the pavements for the less able, carried out by Wells residents Theo van Hensbergen, Brian Clarke and Robert Payne.
Wells Voice reported last month that Robert, Theo – whose mother-in-law uses a wheelchair – and Brian – who needs to use a motorised wheelchair because of his motor neurone disease – were embarking on the survey, assessing issues such as the height of drop kerbs and the condition of surfaces when measured against official guidelines.
They have now completed the survey, and Theo said of their findings: “It’s much, much worse than I expected it to be. There are multiple places that are inaccessible, there are pavements with a drop kerb at one end but not the other, there are drop kerbs that are higher than they should be.
“We are expecting a number of city and county councillors to be in attendance at the rally and we hope that those we hand copies of our survey to will take it away and study it, and more importantly, act on it.”
Pavements are the responsibility of Somerset Council, and Councillor Mike Rigby, Somerset Council’s Executive Lead Member, Transport & Digital, and Councillor Tessa Munt, a Somerset Council councillor for Wells, are both due to attend the rally and will be given a copy of the report.
The Wells Streets Accessibility Survey 2023, as the trio have titled it, came “in response to the growing realisation that the pavements and streets in central Wells are a major inhibitor to independent mobility and constitute discrimination against people with mobility disabilities”.
The report, which is still in draft, will conclude that there “appears to be culturally ingrained indifference to the needs of our less mobile citizens”.
Examples cited in the report of difficulties the less able encounter include wheelchair users and mothers with young children being forced to step out into traffic in South Street. To alleviate that problem, the report says it “could easily be re-zoned as a pedestrian prioritised street with a 10mph speed restriction”.
The report continues: “Or why not go a step further and re-zone all the more problematic narrower central roads as pedestrian prioritised. Whilst allocating more High Street parking bays to disabled use would ease many disabled people’s problematic journeys to the city centre.”
Other problems encountered include the lack of a drop kerb at The Rib in St Andrew Street; a poorly fitting and dangerous metal plate crossing in Broad Street; and a narrowing of the pavement and missing drop kerbs in Silver Street. Several other ‘high risk’ zones are also detailed, along with many other more minor issues.
Some good news is reported: key services such as banks, supermarkets and medical services can be accessed (“however circuitously or dangerously”), and some of the more recent drop kerb and pavement installations, such as around the Morrison’s and Waitrose traffic lights, are highlighted as examples of how to do things properly.
Somerset Council has said that it is facing a financial crisis. But the report says: “We often hear that budgets for additional works are not available. However, we consider a truly civilised town would prioritise the issues requiring improvement identified in this report.”
The full report will be made available to read and download online and at Wells Library.
The public rally will take place at 2pm on Thursday, December 7, and anyone who would like to join in and show their support is welcome to attend.
A poster to publicise the rally has been designed by Wells resident Hellen Cooke, and posters are being displayed in shops, and leaflets distributed on market days, to encourage participation.
Theo said: “We want to show that there are a lot of us out here who are affected by this, please don’t ignore us. “A dedicated Facebook page is shortly to be set up for the ‘Proper Pavements for Wells’ campaign and people wishing to add their support may also contact the campaign organisers by email using email@example.com.”