Saturday, November 26, 2011

Welcome to the Olympics (Unless You are Disabled)

When the Planning Board considered the application to use Greenwich Park for the Equestrian events, the Planning Board report (p.94) records that the Westcombe Society urged that “Special attention should be given to the inadequate provision for disabled travellers at Blackheath and Maze Hill stations, including the installation of a disabled access on the down platform at Maze Hill”. The Council responded (p.143) that it “is committed to ensuring convenient and safe access for disabled spectators and it is considered that this matter can be resolved as part of a planning condition.”

It added that “Network Rail and South Eastern Trains, who operate Blackheath and Maze Hill stations, have plans to improve these stations. As an interested party/stakeholder London 2012 will be working with these bodies to explore opportunities to deliver the needed improvements. It is important to note that the Council are confident that effective transport operations for the Events at Greenwich can be delivered by the existing and additional rail infrastructure (being provided by the ODA)”

Unfortunately the Council’s confidence seems to have been misplaced. No planning condition seems to have required the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) to deliver the promised additional rail infrastructure to provide disabled access at Maze Hill Station for departing disabled spectators. The plans for ‘the last mile’ to be considered by the Council in January require passengers to reach the departure platform by means of a footbridge that is inaccessible to wheelchair users. There is no proposal for a ramp to the platform from an existing gap on the bridge.

Maze Hill (with Blackheath and Greenwich) is one of three Rail stations designated as a destination for spectators for the Olympic Equestrian Events in Greenwich Park. Unlike the non-Olympic stations on the line, it will have a full, six trains an hour service for arriving spectators from North Kent and London City Airport. But although it is the closest station to Greenwich Park, Maze Hill will have no disabled access to the down platform.

The Westcombe Society had also sought assurances on the availability of a ‘walking’ route for the disabled from Maze Hill station to the venue. In its response (p.136), the Council stated “Given the plans for spectator marshalling and signage discussed within the TA and that there are still some two and a half years before the start of the Games, it is considered that clearly defined spectator walking routes (including for those who are less able) will be established well in advance.”

However, no such safe and convenient route for the disabled has been established, less than nine months before the start of the games. The plans propose that the footbridge is reached using a very narrow pavement across the rail bridge and require possibly unsighted and slow moving disabled persons to cross Maze Hill close to a blind bend, with no marked pedestrian crossing. No attempt is made to use the existing gap in the bridge wall (at a point where the pavement is much wider and road crossing much safer) to provide a step-free pedestrian ramp to the departure platform for the disabled. Unlike the footbridges over the A2 and Romney Road, there would be no expense involved in removing such a ramp after the games.

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