Not all my ward cases are straightforward or easy to solve. Some are more frustrating than others; that’s just something that you come to expect as a Councillor. I’ve been working on a case for an elderly disabled constituent for over a year now, that at face value, you’d think should have been fairly simple to sort out. The case has driven both myself and the family involved to absolute distraction.
In September 2016 I was asked by a constituent to take a look at an application that she’d made to the Council for the installation of a disabled bay on the street outside her house. Council officers had been out to have a look already and had determined that, because she has a driveway, she wouldn’t be deemed eligible for a bay.
This had all taken many months already and my constituent was visibly stressed by the process. When I visited it was obvious that the very steep gradient and narrow width of the lady’s driveway hadn’t been taken into account. Due to the nature of the lady’s disability this made it impossible for her to park safely. So I told her that I’d ask officers to take another look, as I felt her unique circumstances fitted the criteria for being assessed as a “special case”.
At this point in this convoluted tale it’s definitely worth noting that;
“Local Authorities have a duty to provide, maintain and regulate disabled parking bays in accordance with the Disabled Persons’ Parking Places (Scotland) Act 2009.
On the 1st of October 2009, The Scottish Government introduced the Disabled Persons’ Parking Places (Scotland) Act 2009. The Act now makes it a requirement that all current disabled parking bays become legally enforceable.
The aim of the Act is to provide improved access for disabled drivers and penalise inconsiderate drivers who abuse the current advisory system”
So the elderly, disabled lady’s case was duly raised by me and within a few weeks I’d been advised by a senior officer that, provided my constituent submitted a duplicate application and had it confirmed by a GP or Occupational Therapist, that her driveway was not suitable for her use due to her disability, then a discretionary bay could be installed. It was pointed out that this bay would not be legally enforceable and instead would rely on the goodwill of neighbours and others to respect the disabled parking right.
This is when it starts to get interesting…..
We are now in the month of December and finally after many emails and phone calls from both myself and my constituent’s family there was still no discretionary bay installed. The lining squad – the guys who complete this work for the council, had been spotted putting cones on the road to mark out the bay, and then spotted again coming back to paint the lines. However the lining squad didn’t get to complete the work, as we now know that they were ordered off the job by a local Councillor.
Now, any Councillor knows that it’s a cardinal sin to get involved in operational matters of the Council or to direct staff. I told you this was interesting!
Around this time I was advised that two of the other ward Councillors have also been interfering and actively putting spanners in the works of this case. Staff told me that it had become political and that’s why it was not progressing. I was truly horrified! I really appreciated the staff being so candid with me and the only reason that I haven’t submitted complaints about the Councillors involved to the Standards Commission, is to protect the anonymity of those staff.
By now my disabled constituent was extremely distressed and despondent. It is often impossible for her to find a parking space on the road outside her house so her enjoyment of her car and her freedom have been seriously curtailed; her family were quite rightly furious and still are.
At this stage I escalated the case to the most senior officers in the council and also reported that a local Councillor had directly intervened in operational matters to stop the bay being painted on the road. It was now mid December 2016.
Fast forward to the 3rd of March 2017 and again following many emails from both myself and my constituent and her family, the discretionary bay was finally installed and we were advised that the formal process of Traffic Regulation Order will be progressed in a couple of months.
The elderly disabled lady was tremendously relieved to reach this stage in the process and began to use the new bay for parking her car. Sadly this isn’t the end of the saga. Often other people park in the bay, people who do not have a disabled badge, even though the bay is now clearly marked. The disabled bay must be invisible to some, or perhaps a local Councillor has told some people that it’s not legally enforceable, who knows?
Often when my disabled constituent’s car is parked in the bay, other residents block in her car so that she is unable to drive anywhere. She is distraught; as are her family. We refused to give up.
I asked the Council Officers to begin the process of making the bay legal, which means anyone who parks in it without a blue badge will be booked. Now my constituent is asked to jump through more hoops by the Council. Although she’s already submitted an application and also had a letter from her GP, this is deemed unsuitable; she is told that she now needs a letter from the Occupational Therapist and a fresh application. This is duly done and on the 20th of April I received an email to tell me that the Traffic Regulation Orders for all advisory disabled bays in the Oban Lorn and the Isles area would be progressed in the near future and the consultation stage would run for six weeks from the start of July.
At the end of August the public consultation part of the process began. It’s due to close today and has taken much longer than anticipated due to objections.
We are aware that there are at least 22 letters of support from neighbours for this disabled bay and also that there are a much smaller number of objections. I have to say that I personally struggle with the fact that anyone could bring themselves to object to the installation of a disabled bay that will give an elderly lady, with poor health, her freedom back. While Councillors are always quite rightly expected to take a balanced an unbiased view, for me, based on all the facts and evidence to date, there is no question that my disabled, elderly constituent deserves my support.
The latest information that we have on the process, is that due to objections the decision on whether or not the legal bay will be granted, will now come before the Oban Lorn and the Isles Area Committee; The local committee, which seldom anymore decides much of consequence, on which I and the other seven councillors from this area sit.
I’ve already made my position on this issue quite clear, as has at least one other aforementioned Councillor, by stopping the work on the discretionary bay in the first place. I’d imagine that we both may have to declare an interest on this issue and this may preclude us from taking part in any vote. As to whether the other ward Councillors can declare impartiality, I have my doubts.
Over the course of the last 14 months I have written countless emails to many senior officers and spent many hours working on this case. My constituent and her family have done the same. I’ve been appalled and seriously disheartened by the procedure and the behaviour of some elected members.
I simply cannot believe that we as a Council have put an elderly and vulnerable member of our community though a debacle like this. As a direct result I’ve asked to see Council policy and procedure in relation to disabled bays. I’m still waiting. I’ve also asked for a review of procedure. Again, I’m still waiting to hear back about this.
Due to the serious lack of answers, on the 18th of October I was left with no alternative and submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Council, in which I asked for all email correspondence between Councillors and Officers in relation to the installation of this bay. I have also asked for a copy of the current policy and procedure. The Council have 20 working days in which to provide me with this information.
To date I have received nothing. Time for response runs out tomorrow.
The family involved in this case have given me permission to share these facts and importantly they wish for their anonymity to be protected. I therefore ask that anyone reading this who may be familiar with the case, respect their wishes and not publicly reveal their names.
I will keep you updated as to the outcome…………………