DISABLED people have been told "you must pay to park" by council bosses.
Previously. parking was free for Stockton’s blue badge holders. But thousands of disabled motorists across the borough have now discovered that they have to pay in car parks - although charges do not apply to street parking.
Disabled motorists can still park for free in Yarm High Street, where campaigners won concessions over the general pay and display scheme. However, they still apply in other car parks in Yarm.
It’s not known how much money Stockton council will raise from the new charges. When a similar plan was considered in Redcar it was anticipated £60,000 a year would be raised, although Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council eventually decided against the scheme.
Stockton Council’s cabinet agreed the charges in principle in December, 2011 but has held off introducing them. The fees apply to both general parking bays and those dedicated for disabled people.
A concession has been made to allow the time on blue badge holders’ tickets to over-run by one hour, as long as the blue badge is displayed properly.
Charges in short stay car parks in Stockton town centre are currently applied Monday to Saturday, between 8am and 6pm, and are £1 for two hours and £1 for each hour thereafter.
Councillor Mike Smith, Stockton Council’s cabinet member for regeneration and transport, said: “Charges for blue badge holders are part of the borough-wide car parking strategy that outlined how flexible parking tariffs, car parking promotions and parking management can support the economic development and regeneration aspirations for the borough.
“The blue badge scheme is related to disability rather than financial circumstances and consultation with the disability advisory group has been undertaken.
"Though current tariffs in Stockton town centre are £1 for two hours, tariffs for blue badge holders will be £1 for three hours thereby allowing a longer parking period to assist those with severe mobility problems.”
Kerry Morrison, chairwoman of the Parents for Change group, which helps families dealing with disability in neighbouring Middlesbrough, said the charges were a bad idea.
She said: “Everything is twice as expensive for parents with a disabled child anyway and anything which limits the mobility of that family is a bad thing.
"I appreciate they’re not charging for on-street parking, but you’ve got to think about access to health centres and doctors. It’s not just about shopping.
“Even getting a blue badge can be difficult for families dealing with disability. For a start we have children with severe difficulties who still haven’t been given an official diagnosis and can’t even get a blue badge.”
A spokeswoman for disability charity Scope said the organisation had recently published a report which found that disabled people pay a financial penalty on everyday living costs which amounted to £550 a month more. One in ten disabled people pay more than £1,000 extra per month on everyday living costs.
A blue badge is still listed as costing £10 on Stockton council’s website.
A similar policy was scheduled for the Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council area in 2012, however in the even the authority decided only to charge blue badge holders for parking in non-disabled bays after three hours.