Wheelchair access to Brighton and Hove beach ‘insufficient’

A WHEELCHAIR user felt left out and frustrated after being unable to meet up with friends on the beach due to a lack of disabled access.

Sophie Buck from Hove moved to the city to live by the sea, but after falling ill with chronic fatigue syndrome she found she couldn’t enjoy the beach as much as before.

Whilst Sophie regularly uses Hove’s promenade, there is no way for her to get to the beach on her own with her wheelchair.

“I want to be able to sit down on the beach with everyone else and enjoy being on the beach like any local or visitor should,” she said.

The Argus: Sophie was frustrated that she couldn't reach the beach on her ownSophie was frustrated that she couldn’t reach the beach on her own

“The pebbly beach is down a flight of stairs and there is no flat surface to drive on, just pebbles. I can only drive along the promenade but my view of the beach and sea is far behind and obscured as the railing is at eye level.”

Sophie said there are beach-friendly wheelchairs available for rent, but this can be stressful and they don’t solve many access problems.

“It’s more suitable for taking a long walk — or rather, for rolling on the pebbles or going into the sea, and not just for reaching the beach and getting closer to the sea,” she said.

“Beach wheelchairs are very expensive to rent. You have to go to where the wheelchairs are to be rented, fill out a booking form and consent form, remember your ID, pay a deposit, make sure to return the wheelchair within two hours, and trust them with your own expensive chair.

“That’s especially asking for someone like me who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and is autistic. It’s so many extra steps just to be able to reach the beach and involves a lot of anxiety-inducing social interactions that I’d rather avoid.

“Until I got the beach wheelchair I would have run out of energy just to drive seconds further somewhere to sit on the beach and not take full advantage of it. Beach wheelchairs are also few and far between so there is no guarantee one will be available.”

Earlier this year, Kemp Town’s Black Rock Boardwalk was opened by Councilor Alan Robins, then Mayor.

The Argus: Hove BeachHove Beach

Brighton and Hove City Council said at the time the promenade was fully wheelchair accessible, but Sophie said the facility was a bad example of beach access.

“The facility in Kemp Town is limited and not a great example of access,” she said. “My friend and wheelchair user Jesse managed to get to the Kemp Town facility and sent me a picture of the view from there.

“They told me it’s so far from the beach. There’s a bit that sticks out and comes a bit closer, but it all feels like you’re on the concrete promenade in Hove. They went alone and said they could see everyone sitting closer to the sea on the beach and just felt like we were in the background, not really included.”

Sophie, who is ambulatory – meaning she can sometimes walk a few steps – also said wheelchair users shouldn’t be forced to walk all the way to Black Rock to get to the beach.

“It takes over an hour in a wheelchair,” she said.

“I want something closer to home that I can reach within my energy limits. There is no reason why beach access should only be available to people who live in Kemp Town.

The Argus: Black Rock's boardwalk didn't give Sophie's friend the access they were hoping forBlack Rock’s boardwalk didn’t give Sophie’s friend the access they had hoped for

“The beach wheelchair regulations – combined with the limited and distant promenade in Kemp Town – do not provide adequate access for wheelchair users and other mobility devices to Brighton and Hove beach.

“For a city known for its beach, Brighton and Hove really need to improve, to be more accessible.”

Council said Hove was earmarked for a seafront promenade but there were no funds to make this happen.

“After consultation with disabled user groups, a beach area was identified in Hove near the King Alfred where a beach path and patio could be installed. We are currently examining how this could be funded,” a spokesman said.

“Unfortunately, this particular project falls outside the scope of our multi-million pound Kingsway to the Sea improvement plan for Hove.

“The Kingsway to the Sea project will be designed to be accessible anywhere. There will be an accessible path throughout the linear park, a changing room and a disabled room as part of a new outdoor sports center.

The Argus: The Promenade in Kemp Town when it first openedThe promenade in Kemp Town when it opened

The spokesman said the council is very concerned about disabled access to the city’s beaches and its seafront team “have worked very positively with Scope’s beach access team for a number of years.”

He said: “This partnership approach has led to a number of measures to improve access to the coast.

“This includes an accessible beach terrace in central Brighton with accessible picnic tables.

“We have also commissioned a bespoke all-terrain power wheelchair which is on order and due for delivery in the next few weeks. This will be available throughout the city’s coast and beaches.

“A new seafront promenade for Saltdean has been ordered and is due to be installed in the autumn.” Wheelchair access to Brighton and Hove beach ‘insufficient’

Fry Electronics Team

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