‘Derry can be world leader for disabled’

SDLP Councillor Tina Gardiner.
SDLP Councillor Tina Gardiner.

SDLP Councillor Tina Gardiner has insisted a new blueprint governing land use and development in Derry over the next fifteen years must ensure the North West becomes a world leader in terms of disabled access.

Colr. Gardiner was speaking after a 12 week consultation on the council’s prospective Local Development Plan (LDP) 2032 revealed disability was not a main concern for those individuals and organisations who took the opportunity to give their views on the future of local planning policy.

The LDP, still in its earliest stage of development, will ultimately “inform the general public, statutory authorities, developers and other interested parties of the policy framework and land use proposals that will guide development decisions within the District”.

However, disability was apparently not the most pressing concern for those 126 individuals and organisaitons who responded to a Preferred Options Paper (POP) for the plan during the summer. This was revealed at Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Planning Committee meeting for November when an interim report on the representations received during the consultation was presented to members. Colr. Gardiner complained that disability and disabled access did not figure prominently enough in the draft ‘Interim Report on Representations Received’.

She said: “I’ve read it and there are two mentions of disability. One, in terms of Section 75 [the clause in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 outlining the council’s equality requirements] and another in terms of natural heritage impact. There is no point in having Sectio 75 if our LDP and other plans don’t take into account accessibilty for people with disabilities.”

The Waterside representative said she was acutely aware of the difficulties disabled constituents often have navigating certain streets and buildings in the city.

She argued that “every door should be wide enough” and “every path in the city should have a gradient” in order to ensure ease of access, adding that “we should not be talking about costs” when it comes to accessibility.

Proinsias McCaughey, Principal Planning Officer, explained that one of the reasons disability was not mentioned more often in the ‘Interim Report’ was because consultees had not brought it up.

Karen Philips, Director of Environment and Regeneration, promised officers would bring back a report on the disability issue, however, she also pointed out that the POP was “quite high level” and covered a lot of planning issues.

Planning Committee Chair, Colr. Dan Kelly also suggested that the LDP was still at Phase 1 and that the committee was not yet in a position to “drill down into the detail”.

Colr. Gardiner said: “The LDP...has very little reference to disability access and the rights of disabled people and this should change.

She said: “We have an excellent opportunity to make Derry and the wider district a world leader in disability access and we must grasp it. Derry should be a disability friendly city and a good start would be to ensure all planning decisions are made with disabled access as a key factor.”