Make beaches wheelchair friendly, urges Minister
Seaside resorts would reap an economic boost by making beaches more accessible to disabled people, the Government has said.
Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey is writing to councils to warn they risk missing out on an £80 billion market if wheelchairs are restricted from the coast.
But authorities across the Westcountry, where tourism is vital to the economy, say they routinely invest in schemes to make beaches and the countryside more user-friendly for disabled people.
The minister wants councils to work with local grassroots organisations through the Disability Action Alliance, an umbrella group of more than 180 organisations from public, private and third sector who want to work in partnership to improve the lives of disabled people.
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Ms McVey said: "As well as the importance of equal access, it makes good business sense to ensure – as the tourist season reaches its peak – local areas of beauty and interest can attract as many people as possible.
"The 'purple pound' is worth £80bn a year, councils can benefit by tapping into this when considering how to make their local environment more inclusive by opening up our beaches and other tourist hotspots for everyone to enjoy.
"Often a small change can make a big difference to disability access and so we'd encourage councils to continue working in partnership with disabled people and their organisations, as they know what works best in their local areas on the ground."
One successful project in place already is the Countryside Mobility scheme run by the Living Options Devon charity, which operates across the South West.
It provides all-terrain mobility scooters and wheelchair accessible "wheelyboats", which allow up to five wheelchair users at a time to get out on the water for fishing or pleasure boating, and operates throughout Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset.
James Maben, of Living Options Devon, said: "It's impossible to describe the feeling of suddenly having the ability and freedom to go into the countryside again.
"And with the unusually warm weather this year we have never been busier. By opening up access means disabled people suddenly have independence again to explore and enjoy the countryside which is truly amazing."
Cornwall Council's latest investment has been around beaches near Bude, including a new ramp and railing at Widemouth Bay, two accessible beach huts, new sand chairs to support access to the sea and a wheelchair tandem bike which can be hired from the local cycle hire shop. Four accessible bikes have also been purchased for use on the Camel Trail. Torbay Council, which manages beaches on the English Riviera, said dropped kerbs are provided to all new footways as standard and it offers a £20 annual disabled parking permit for off-street car parks.