Tunnel plan ‘not fit for purpose’

Local campaigners, left to right, Reginald Agu, Ivor Browne and John Aitchison
Local campaigners, left to right, Reginald Agu, Ivor Browne and John Aitchison
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A ROW has broken out over fears that an underpass to a new health centre will not be fit for use by disabled people and mothers with prams.

Local residents claim that plans to upgrade the tunnel between Wester Hailes Shopping Plaza car park and the nearby Healthy Living Centre – currently being built by NHS Lothian and the city council – fall short of providing an acceptable access route for all.

They have accused car park leaseholder, Anglian Water Group (AWG), of refusing to compromise on the number of spaces it has released for the tunnel upgrade.

There is currently an agreement for AWG to lease three spaces from its car park, which has room for around 700 vehicles, to the construction consortium.

Dr Colin Cooper, a local campaigner and retired GP, said the plans provided only minimal compliance with laws on disabled access.

He said a group of designers and architects had concluded 20 spaces would be needed for a car park exit ramp that would meet the needs of people in wheelchairs and buggy users.

He said: “AWG have been particularly hard-nosed about this. They were not approached for more than three spaces because the battle to get three was like pulling teeth. On cost grounds, the council could not afford to take extra spaces. It would not make any difference to [AWG] and would benefit people here hugely.”

John Aitchison, of Wester Hailes Community Council, said: “There’s still a lot of uncertainty for the Wester Hailes community, who have fought hard for the Healthy Living Centre.

“There’s a fear that, if the centre does not get more spaces, it will lose patients who will go to the Sighthill or Whin Park centres.”

Councillor Ricky Henderson, Labour group member for the Pentland Hills ward, said: “The three spaces the company has agreed to provide meet the minimum requirements of the Equality Act, but it’s nowhere near the best solution, which would be to open the entire pass.”

AWG, NHS Lothian and the city council have rejected the criticisms and say the new underpass will meet local needs.

A spokeswoman for AWG Property said: “We have worked closely with the city council regarding the number of car parking spaces they require. At their request we have agreed to a long lease on three spaces and a short-term lease on six spaces for the duration of the works period.”

Iain Graham, director of Capital Planning and Projects at NHS Lothian, said: “We considered a number of design options and we are satisfied that the new underpass will provide excellent access.”

A city council spokesperson said: “ Among the improvements planned are ramps and steps to make the refurbished area more compliant with disability legislation.”