Free disabled parking in Newcastle's council car parks to end in July

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image captionFrom July, parking in Eldon Square will no longer be free for blue badge holders

Free parking for disabled drivers is to be scrapped in Newcastle council car parks from July.

Under the new arrangement, when a blue badge holder's paid-for ticket expires they will be given an additional hour at no extra cost.

Newcastle City Council claimed the move would help "manage demand" for parking spaces.

Charities warned the introduction of charges would be a "further financial burden" for disabled people.

The local authority is also set to introduce a £100-a-year charge for users of its Shopmobility service, which provides battery-powered scooters and wheelchairs for people with mobility issues.

The changes will bring in an extra £115,000 a year, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

'Appalled'

Charities Difference North East and Disability North East said the move would be a "further financial burden" at a time when disability benefits "have not been increased to help with the additional pressures of the current [coronavirus] crisis".

Liberal Democrat opposition councillor Greg Stone said he was "appalled" by the Labour-run authority's decision to enact the changes, which were approved in early 2019.

"The administration already generates millions of pounds in surplus from its parking operations, but is making a deliberate choice to remove the blue badge exemption from parking charges."

A public consultation late last year saw just over 100 objections to the blue badge changes lodged by residents, church groups and charities, with some claiming it would "punish" people for being disabled and make it harder for them to access the city centre.

Northumbria University also submitted feedback on behalf of disabled students, reporting some might be forced to drop out if they could not afford to pay for parking to attend classes.

A council report into the consultation said surveys of its city centre car parks carried out before the onset of the pandemic showed demand for parking spots was high with "frequently more blue badge holder vehicles than dedicated disabled spaces".

In a statement, it said: "We are introducing these changes in order to both manage demand for spaces and ensure that there continues to be sufficient accessible and priority parking available for blue badge holders.

"There will continue to be priority parking and accessible bays for disabled people within our car parks."

Blue badge holders will still be able to use more than 2,000 on-street parking spaces in the city centre free of charge, the authority added.

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