HEDON Town Council is to investigate the feasibility and aesthetics of installing of a bespoke stairlift system for the grade II listed Town Hall.
The stairlift which would be uniquely designed to fit in the ancient building without damaging it or affixing to the walls would cost around £50,000+ raised through seeking grants for the project and not from the council itself.
The purpose of the stairlift would be to ensure that people who wish to take part in council meetings in the historic council chamber on the upper floor of the building, and are currently prevented from being able to do so because of disability or having to use a wheelchair, would be able.
Whilst agreeing to investigate the proposal, not all councillors are comfortable with the idea because of the change to the visible appearance of the historic building that would result. From listening to councillors at the town council meeting last night, it seems that the unique stairlift requires being built into the floor of the building and supported from a concrete base and external supporting arms; it would frame but not affix to or damage the existing banister or staircase in any way. But the resulting framing stairlift would itself then become a feature of the ancient building.
A drawing passed around councillors depicting the stairlift failed to convince them all about how the stairlift would finally look. A resolution was supported for a report with better visualizations (plans/drawings/3D-impressions) to be brought back to the council.
The debate in the council chamber however raised some interesting issues – dilemmas – which Blog readers might like to comment on.
Democracy: The council chamber is the historic base of local government in Hedon. Not all our citizens can get up to the chamber by their own volition. Is it right that this is the case – or should the council meet in an alternative venue which is already accessible?
Separate facilities: It has been suggested that the internet, live broadcasts, VOIP facilities (like Skype) could mean that people could watch/take part in meetings remotely. Is it right that disability means that you will always be a remotely located participant?
Expense v frequency of use: How often would the stairlift be used? How many residents and visitors would actually use the stairlift? If infrequently, then is the £50,000+ expenditure justified (regardless of where the funding has come from). Or would any use of the stairlift by someone with a disability justify that expenditure?
Access to history and culture: The 17th century council chamber is beautiful and its interior contains historic decor and furnishings. If you can’t get up to the chamber – unless someone or something physically carries you and your wheelchair up the stairs – your experience of the building can only come from second-hand experience (photos, video, etc).
Ancient buildings and monuments were not built to modern standards of access and are not disabled-friendly – but where it is possible to adapt them, should we do so?
Different people will have different priorities, whether that be placing access, democracy, culture & history or expense as the first priority? But in your opinion, how should the council proceed?