A routine trip to the Royal Preston Hospital turned into a parking nightmare for disabled husband and wife Nick and Jeanette Rawcliffe.
The only available blue badge space was so tight, the couple found themselves “trapped” in their car, unable to open the doors.
Nick had to scramble out of the boot and then had a struggle getting Jeanette and her wheelchair out.
“The spaces are an absolute disgrace,” said Nick. “The cars on either side were parked properly, yet neither of us could open our doors enough to get out.
“This is a disabled car park for goodness sake. I’ve only got one leg and Jeanette has MS. How are we meant to park?”
The Rawcliffes’ case highlights a huge headache for UK drivers in general as modern family cars get bigger, yet parking bays do not.
The cars on either side were parked properly, yet neither of us could open our doors enough to get out.
In one recent case a railway station car park had to be repainted after a complaint that spaces were less than two metres wide when Government guidelines recommend a minimum of 2.4 metres.
For disabled parking the recommended width increases to 3.3 metres – preferably 3.6 metres – to allow for the use of a wheelchair.
But when the Post took a tape measure to the bay where the Rawcliffes parked their BMW hatchback, we found it was barely 2.4 metres wide.
“There is only one disabled car park at the RPH, plus two or three spaces at the back of the hospital which are always taken – usually by cars not showing a blue badge,” said Nick at home in Flag Lane, Heath Charnock near Chorley. “It’s a heck of a job getting a space at the front because there are so few disabled spaces and you nearly always have to queue to get in, waiting for someone to leave before you can get in.
“Some of the bays have been widened, but not all of them. And on this day I could only get one of the smaller ones.
“I’m quite a big guy and I’ve only got one leg. So the only way I could get out of the car was to climb into the back and then open the boot and crawl out.
“I ended up halfway up the grass banking at the back trying to get the wheelchair out. We managed it in the end, but it was a real struggle.
“You expect some car parks are going to be difficult for disabled people, but not one at a major hospital like RPH.”
Mel Close, chief executive of Disability Equality North West, said: “It all goes back to when the particular car park was designed. There is definitely a move with new-builds to provide wider bays.
“For disabled people it’s not just about being able to park near to the door so they don’t have far to go. It’s about being able to open the car door and get out. The wider the spaces the better.
“We have come a long way since the time the Royal Preston Hospital was opened. But, while some bays on this car park have been extended, some haven’t.
“And I suspect the ones which haven’t met the planning regulations in the seventies and eighties. Today’s recommendations are much different.
“These particular bays, where this couple parked, are not fit for purpose. They are not accessible, especially for people with wheelchairs.
“But parking is an issue for everyone at that hospital. They need to redesign it all and re-do all the car parks.
“There isn’t enough space for all the people who use the hospital. But I would urge them to sort out the disabled car park in particular.”
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Royal Preston Hospital, say congestion around the hospital site is the chief problem.
“We have a number of enlarged disabled parking spaces across our car parks. Unfortunately we are unable to convert all our disabled spaces to enlarged disabled bays as this would significantly reduce the amount of car parking spaces available on an already congested site,” said car park services manager Frank Miller.
“If anybody has any problems trying to park we encourage them to speak to our car park attendants, either in person or via the intercom button at the car park barriers, who will be able to offer assistance and will direct patients to enlarged parking bays if required.”
Hospitals are facing a ‘thankless task’
Mark Osmond visits car parks for a living.
As North West area manager for the British Parking Association he is out most days assessing the facilities on offer for hard-pressed motorists.
And the blue badge area at the Royal Preston Hospital is familiar territory.
Mark said: “RPH has got quite a lot of car parks and they will be doing some realignment programme. It’s just a case of prioritising the funds that they have.
“I look after quite a few hospitals and it’s a thankless task because if they increase the size of disabled bays they lose a number of others.
“A lot of operators are looking at redesigning the lay out of their car parks. But there is no standard size. 4.8 metres long by 2.4 metres wide is a guide. But there isn’t a legal requirement.
“The thing is when you are trying to maximise space, if you increase the size of bays it tends to reduce the numbers of them.”
Mark insists new-build car parks are beginning to address the need for wider bays in general, not just disabled spaces. But older ones are proving slow to change.
“When car parks were built in the sixties and seventies cars were smaller,” she said. “So people find it very difficult to park in those spaces now with larger family cars.
“It is my profession to go to car parks and see what they are like. For me multi-storey car parks tend to be tight. It’s not just the width of the bays, but it’s the ramps as well.
“I drive a Volvo and it’s not the biggest car in the world. Yet I find them very tight. It’s amazing when you see how many paint marks there are on walls and posts where cars have scraped.
“The problem with multi-storeys is you can’t do much about them. They are what they are. But new builds tend to incorporate wider ramps and larger bays, particularly for the disabled motorist.
“It is changing. It’s on-going. But it’s going to take a while before it is complete.
“Take the refurbishment of the Preston Bus Station multi-storey which is underway at the moment. They are increasing the size of the bays in there and they will be much better.
“It all takes time. We are moving in the right direction. But to adjust everything costs money.
“Private operators look at profits. Local authorities are having to cope with budget cuts and car parks will be lower down on their priority list than other things.”