Crackdown on Blue Badge Misuse Begins

Residents say disabled parking permits are being abused

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The streets around Westfield have been designated a 'blue badge enforcement zone' after repeated complaints from residents about the apparent misuse of disabled parking permits.

The six-month pilot in parking zone G will involve surveillance, patrols, the issuing of parking tickets, the towing away of vehicles and prosecutions. “It's all about making sure that the blue badges are being used properly and that the criminal minority aren't abusing the legitimate rights of the disabled,” a Council spokesperson said.

The blue badge parking permit allows people with severe walking difficulties to park close to places they wish to visit. Badge holders are allowed to park on single or double yellow lines for up to three hours and can park for free and for as long as they need to at on-street parking meters and pay-and-display machines.

However, residents living close to Westfield believe the system is being abused. Local resident Rob Faulkner is one of may who says he has seen “blue badgers leaping out of their cars clearly with no physical impairment”.

In a letter to residents earlier this year, Police Sergeant Stephen Gilbert of the Shepherd's Bush Green SNT said the police were aware that there was a problem: “We are aware that people are illegally using blue badges to obtain free parking. It’s an issue we’ve tried to deal with since we started our 24/7 safer neighbourhood team.”

However, he said that trying to catch culprits was extremely time-consuming work: “To prove an offence and to reclaim the badge we need a suspect. This would have to be the person using the car not the registered owner. Therefore we need to wait and watch. We have caught and prosecuted three persons for fraud using this method, although we will not over-prioritise this crime to the detriment of an immediate crime requiring attention elsewhere,” he wrote.

Under the rules, badge-holders are only allowed to use their badge for their own benefit and it is an offence for anybody else to take advantage of the parking concessions provided under the scheme. The maximum fine if someone is convicted is £1,000 plus any additional penalty for the related parking offence.

At a recent Disability Forum meeting, Jane Wilmot, Chair of the Disability Forum said the issue of blue badge misuse needed to be tackled: “We would support any effort to prevent abuse,” she told the meeting.

But David Taylor, Head of Parking Services, told the meeting it was a tricky issue to resolve: “It is easy to check whether a blue badge is lost or stolen by checking with the relevant local authority. Around Westfield it seems that there are people who may be borrowing a valid blue badge to get free parking. This is difficult to prove without surveillance and support from the police. However, the Council needs to be sensitive when dealing with blue badge-holders who actually live there.”

Westfield provide about 200 parking spaces for blue badge-holders but fees for these are charged at the normal rate. Badge-holders can only park there for free if they use 'Shopmobility' – a scheme where people can pre-book a free wheelchair or motorised scooter to use around the shopping centre.

“Unfortunately the Council cannot force Westfield to provide free parking,” the Council's Head of Transport Planning, Chris Bainbridge, told the Disability Forum meeting.

There are currently 4,900 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.

Yasmine Estaphanos

29 May 2009