|Westfield Under Pressure Over Blue Badge Parking|
Shopping centre asked to drop charges for disabled drivers
Westfield is coming under increasing pressure to provide free parking for disabled drivers, in order to try and ease ongoing parking issues in nearby streets and to make it easier for those with limited mobility to visit the centre.
Residents living next to Westfield say it was particularly difficult for them to park in front of their houses over the Christmas shopping and sales period, despite recent changes to parking restrictions which saw the extension of controlled hours in zone G and a permit holders' only system introduced in Macfarlane Road. Residents say this has helped to some extent but that problems remain.
“Although former Macfarlane Road pay-&-display shoppers now have to use Westfield's car park, there has now been a dramatic increase in the number of blue badge drivers parking on Macfarlane Road. As a direct result of this, car owners/visitors are still finding it very hard to park outside their houses, particularly in the north and south ends of the street. Congestion in the street is still infuriating and the increased footfall of people in the street has a detrimental effect on the lives of the residents,” said Dominic Thomas of Macfarlane Road.
Residents have long said they believe the blue badge system is being abused - something that the local police have acknowledged. At 6pm on one evening alone, Thomas said he counted more than 30 blue badge cars parked in his street.
The Chair of the Hammersmith and Fulham Disability Forum has questioned just how many non-resident blue badge holders actually do park in the surrounding streets. "It is a long way away from the centre as well as a long walk after you get there," said Jane Wilmot.
"The Disability Forum position is that blue badge holders should have free parking in the Westfield car park," she added. "Westfield is a private car park and decided not to provide free parking to every blue badge holder. However, Westfield offers free parking to those blue badge holders who pre-book to use their Shopmobility service. Everyone has two hours' free parking at Westfield but blue badge-holders have said that this is not long enough because it takes longer for people with limited mobility to get around Westfield."
Westfield provides about 200 parking spaces for blue badge-holders inside the shopping centre, but fees for these are charged at the normal rate. London Assembly Member Kit Malthouse is one of those calling for this to change: ''I have been working with the Macfarlane Road residents for some time now, and on some Westfield-related issues we have made progress. However there is still more to do, and while I welcome the introduction of permit parking by LBHF, the blue badge abuse is as bad as ever. We need free or subsidised parking for blue badge holders in the Westfield car park so Macfarlane Road can be relieved for the benefit of the residents,” he said.
The blue badge parking permit allows those with severe walking difficulties to park close to places they want to visit, including on single or double yellow lines for up to three hours and they can park for free and for as long as they need to at on-street parking meters and pay-and-display machines. There are currently more than 4,000 blue badge holders in the borough and blue badges issued by other councils are also valid in Hammersmith and Fulham, as are badges issued in other countries.
The Council say that with the Christmas rush over, parking problems around Westfield appear to have eased: "All changes to parking in Shepherd's Bush were made with residents in mind but the reality is there are a limited number of spaces. We have a duty to carefully balance the needs of residents and the needs of disabled drivers, and while there was an increase in drivers with blue badges parking in the area over the peak Christmas period, this has already reduced. We are continuing to monitor the situation and are actively putting pressure on Westfield to introduce free parking to blue badge holders," said Cllr Nicholas Botterill, deputy leader and cabinet member for environment.
Local residents are calling on Westfield to help take the pressure off their streets: “It is my hope that Westfield will agree to both abolish the parking charges for disabled visitors and to increase the numbers of disabled parking bays for Westfield visitors if they are already being filled - I doubt they are. The fact Westfield still insist on charging disabled visitors is outrageous," said Thomas.
We asked Westfield whether they had any plans to abolish parking charges for disabled visitors and to explain why they charged for disabled parking at all. We received no reply from them.
20 January 2010