Dismay as free disabled parking at popular country park is axed

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Free parking for blue badge holders has been scrapped at one of the borough’s most popular beauty spots.

It was announced last week that changes had been made to the way Wigan Council charged for parking at Haigh Woodland Park but no mention was originally made that visitors with a blue badge would now have to pay as well.

But one 55-year-old, from Hindley, who uses a wheelchair and visits the park almost every day to walk her dogs, has branded the change discriminatory as it impedes people like her from getting out and about.

She said: “With the old scheme if you had a blue badge you could park there for up to three hours for free but they have now stopped that altogether.

“We now have to pay the same as everybody else. You can park for 30 minutes for free but I have to use a hoist to get out of my car and that can take around 10 minutes so by the time I had got out I would have to get back in again.

“They should be trying to include disabled people, especially when public money has been spent to upgrade the car park.

“I take my dogs to the park because they like to run around but I can’t keep up with them normally but at Haigh Hall I can sit and let them run.

“I would now have to pay £1.50 a day to park there and I can’t afford that, I am retired and disabled people do have increased costs to pay out as well.

“It is only £1.50 but if I go four times a week that’s £6.

“I don’t go out shopping or into the town centre already because it is too much for me and I already feel isolated.

“This was one thing I could do to get out and about and maintain a healthy lifestyle and now I won’t be able to go as much.”

But the council has said blue badges do not entitle people to free parking - only to spaces closer to an entrance.

Penny McGinty, assistant director for leisure and property at Wigan Council, said: “Motorists displaying a Blue Badge while visiting Haigh Woodland Park have previously benefitted from free parking.

“But the car parks have been upgraded and extended as part of the major redevelopment of the park to bring the quality of parking into line with other car parks in the borough.

“As part of this redevelopment new parking charges have been introduced.

“The national Blue Badge scheme does not entitle free parking. It was introduced to help disabled drivers park close to their destination for on-street parking only, without fear of incurring a fine – this is not applicable at Haigh Woodland Park and the site is therefore not part of the scheme.

“Our car parks have designated parking spaces closest to the entrance and attractions for disabled visitors. However, there is no concessionary price for disabled drivers.”

The new charges were introduced on July 12 and saw the 30 minutes free parking introduced, as well as a £3 charge for more than 90 minutes - with the £1.50 for 90 minutes remaining the same.

The car park is also no longer pay and display. Instead visitors will pay on exit via a new pay station. Charges will apply to all vehicles entering the site.

Wigan Council said that Haigh Woodland Park’s three year, £12m makeover began in 2015 with the aim of transforming the 250 acre site into a fun, family-friendly leisure destination of regional significance.