THE survey of pavements in Wells to see whether or not they meet the needs of less able users is being extended to the outer areas of the city.
Wells resident Theo van Hensbergen and his neighbours Bob Payne and Brian Clarke, who uses a wheelchair, compiled a report on pavement issues in the central part of the city, identifying many problems with pavement surfaces and network design, and launching the Proper Pavements for Wells campaign to demand improvements.
Somerset Council has responsibility for pavements, and the report was handed over to Somerset Council councillors at a public rally outside Wells Town Hall on December 21. Theo gave a presentation on the report the same evening at a meeting of Wells City Council.
Now he would like to hear from people who might use mobility aids or have restricted vision who can contribute to a survey of areas outside the city centre. “We want to concentrate on the really glaring errors and we will find a way of presenting those to Somerset Council once the survey of outlying areas is completed. The focus will be on trying to fix the major difficulties that stop people getting into town,” said Theo. “All interested parties should contact me via email@example.com.”
The BBC Points West cameras filmed the rally on December 21 for a report on the news bulletin that evening. At the rally, Theo said: “Very few people seem to understand that, for users of mobility aids, the pavements are an essential travel network, just as roads are a network for cars.”
He said that the challenge for Somerset Council is that they now have to remedy the situation because the evidence suggests they are in breach of three Acts of Parliament: the Highways Act and Road Traffic Act, and the Equalities Act.
Councillor Mike Rigby, the then Lead Member for Transport & Digital at Somerset Council, was at the rally and told Points West: “What we’ll be doing is going through this report looking for quick wins, seeing what we can deliver in a really short timescale and then prioritising the rest of the work.”
Councillor Tessa Munt, a Somerset Council councillor for Wells, was also at the rally. She told Wells Voice: “I was so pleased to attend December’s rally in Wells with Mike Rigby and Richard Wilkins, and meet Rob, Brian, Theo and the campaigners and their supporters to receive the report. In my view, this report highlights the number of people who need better access to our city, its shops, services, facilities and businesses.
“Over the last month, I’ve worked with Somerset Council officers and they confirm that in the city itself, 1,400 residents have been issued with Blue Badges in the last three years. There are many other Blue Badge holders in nearby villages who come to Wells regularly, along with visitors from elsewhere. The report shows that it is not just the less mobile who are affected by poor accessibility, but many others, including those with pushchairs, prams and young children. To me, this signals an urgent need to consider carefully how we provide better and safer access for everyone in and around our city.
“On a personal note, it infuriates me that delivery drivers park on our pavements every day – rather than in the loading bays – breaking paving slabs, causing them to become uneven and rock, the source of many tripping accidents for pedestrians. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues at Somerset Council and with the city council to see what we can do to improve matters.”
Councillor Richard Wilkins, the new Lead Member for Transport & Digital, said: “We’re very impressed and grateful for the work carried out in putting together this comprehensive report and are keen to work with the community and Wells City Council to identify areas of concern.
“Our team does carry out regular inspections across our network, including pavements in towns and villages, but with 4,172 miles of roads to cover the team has to prioritise, and order maintenance works based on need and relative risk.
“However, there may be scope to work in partnership with Wells City Council and the community to identify and action some works more quickly when an approach can be agreed.”
Brian Clarke has welcomed the reaction that the report has received from Somerset councillors. He said: “I was pleased to receive a positive response from Somerset councillors that they will look to action the worst of the pavement network problems soon. It will make a huge difference to me and many other disabled people in Wells.”
He said he senses that Somerset Council is starting to get a grasp of both the scale and impact of the challenges disabled people face in Wells, and he hopes that it can work with Wells City Council to find solutions.
Steve Luck, Wells City Council’s Town Clerk, said: “The city council were grateful to receive the presentation on the report. Somerset Council have the statutory duty for highways / pavements but the city council have agreed to help where we can, for example doing minor repairs. Wells City Council agree investment is needed to improve the pavements in Wells.”