An Armagh man with disabilities has called for more blue badge parking in Market Square after he struggled to access The Market Place Theatre at the weekend.
The man, who was attending a production that a family member was taking part in, asked to remain anonymous when speaking about his difficulties he encountered on Sunday (July 23).
As someone who has breathing and walking difficulties, suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis, he described climbing the hill as “practically impossible” at present.
He said he was “totally disgusted” to discover that there was no vehicle access near the front of the building, describing the situation as “very dangerous” as there is no blue badge parking available that avoids the steep hill climb.
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The hill, which runs up to the Theatre between the Omniplex Cinema and the Armagh City Library, is often blocked off by bollards, meaning that in most instances, vehicles cannot drive up to the top.
A sign beside the bollards states that the area is a pedestrian zone, with no vehicles allowed except for when they are loading.
Adjacent to The Market Place Theatre, the car park at St Patrick’s Trian has been out of bounds ever since being shuttered in early 2020. The gates to the 90-space city centre car park were set to open to the public in May, but this has yet to happen.
“There’s nothing. There’s no access for disabled people at all to get near the building,” he said.
“If they’re free there’s two disabled spaces just outside the barrier, but that’s only the start of the hill, the climb is after that. Climbing that hill is like climbing a mountain. You get up and you’re sore, you’re exhausted and you’ve no breath.
“Coming down is a nightmare for anyone that is not good with walking. It’s terrible. I had to hold onto my grandson to get back down the street.”
At the time, he thought “how the heck am I going to get up this hill”, but argues that the solution is simple, saying that the bollards could be opened during show times to allow for disabled parking.
“It’s just a matter of opening that barrier and having a few disabled parking areas behind the library,” he said.
“It would make a big difference.”
Back in March 2019, Armagh I reported that ABC Council had gone out to tender for the complete refurbishment – at an approximate cost of £1 million – of the car park at St Patrick’s Trian.
The top level provides access to the rear of The Market Place Theatre.
Council were unable to provide an exact date for opening but were confident the facility would be open to the public in May, a deadline which has now passed by some months.
A Council spokesperson has since told Armagh I about a number of options available for those with disabilities accessing the Theatre.
They said: “We are sorry to hear that a customer attending a performance had difficulty accessing The Market Place on Sunday. Unfortunately, the car park at St Patrick’s Trian Complex is still undergoing refurbishment which is affecting access to the venue. The Council agreed with the contractor that a number of spaces should remain available for Blue Badge holders while the works are ongoing. These can be booked through the box office and this facility was used on Sunday by other customers.
“It is regrettable that the customer in question was unaware of this option. We can also facilitate drop-offs if we are informed in advance.
“We can arrange for the bollard to be temporarily lifted out to allow someone to be dropped off nearer to the venue and then the car can be parked elsewhere. We’d be happy to speak directly to the customer if he would like further information.”