Campaigners have asked the government why a major scheme to build a new platform at a busy rail station failed to include work to make the station accessible to disabled people.
The £2.5 million project is taking place at Alexandra Palace, which is at the centre of a large area of north London which currently has no step-free access to the rail and tube network.
London TravelWatch, the transport users’ watchdog, believes the scheme could breach the Department for Transport’s (DfT) own code of practice on accessible station design.
It believes there was a “deliberate decision” by the DfT and Network Rail, which owns and runs Britain’s rail infrastructure, not to provide step-free access at Alexandra Palace.
The government’s £370 million Access for All fund, launched in 2006, provides funds for improvements across the rail network, but Alexandra Palace is not currently included in the programme.
Tracey Proudlock, a wheelchair-user and leading access consultant, who lives near Alexandra Palace, said the government needed to rethink its approach to station developments, and ensure that all significant upgrade projects also addressed access issues.
She said: “I think if there is a loophole, they will get out of it.”
Because of the lack of step-free access at the station, Proudlock has to either drive or take a taxi to central London meetings.
She added: “At the moment, Access for All is having a very, very modest impact. There are not many opportunities through that scheme.
“It means their reach and their ability to open up the network is very, very narrow.”
In one letter to Network Rail last year, London TravelWatch said the decision to proceed without introducing step-free access could breach the Equality Act, because of the failure to “take into account the needs of disabled people, and not discriminate against them by constructing public facilities in such a way as to deny them access”.
London TravelWatch has written a series of letters to ministers, Network Rail and the rail regulator, raising serious concerns about the Alexandra Palace scheme and its implications for other stations that need access improvements.
In a letter to the rail regulator, Sharon Grant, at the time the chair of London TravelWatch, said the platform project “appears to have made a mockery of current National and European regulations which require a high standard of access at stations where work is done to improve or enhance them with new facilities”.
But in a letter to Grant, Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Lamb said there was “no question” of anyone in his department “having circumvented the rules in this case”, and there was “no requirement” in the DfT’s code of practice that such projects should make an entire station accessible.
He said that providing a step-free route at Alexandra Palace would probably have more than doubled the cost of the scheme.
But he promised that Alexandra Palace would be “looked at again, along with other current inaccessible stations across the country”, when assessing Access for All bids.
Last July, the government announced another £100 million and an extension of the Access for All programme from 2015 to 2019.
20 February 2013
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com