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Wheels come off scooter hire plan

SUPPORT: Sheriff of Canterbury Ann Taylor (centre) supported the scheme but officials forced the charity to put on the brakes, frustrating John Hawkings (right)
SUPPORT: Sheriff of Canterbury Ann Taylor (centre) supported the scheme but officials forced the charity to put on the brakes, frustrating John Hawkings (right)

A CHARITY has been forced to put the brakes on a plan to rent wheelchairs and mobility scooters to seafront visitors this summer. Bosses at Herne Bay Shopmobillty hoped to build on their success last year, when more than 60 people were able to explore the town on wheels thanks to weekend opening. Chairman John Hawkings and manager Les Beaumont planned to set up on the seafront to attract even more customers who may not find the charity’s base in the North Room, Christ Church. But Mr Hawkings said council red tape had forced them to pull the plug. He said:

“We wanted to provide a service to people who had asked for it by opening at weekends. As coaches unload at the seafront and it’s where most people head that seemed like the ideal location. But after weeks of discussion there have been obstacles at every turn and our suggestions to overcome them haven’t worked.”

The situation is even more frustrating because the scheme was to have been funded by a £2,000 grant given by Herne Bay area members’ panel – part of Canterbury City Council. The original plan had been to use the building at the end of the pier to store the scooters and charge them, but it is now let to another charity. Proposals to set up a gazebo were turned down – even though the grant application that was approved included details of the gazebo.

Expensive

The charity had to refuse the offer of a beach hut on the pier because there is no electricity supply and it was too expensive and the next suggestion was the bandstand. Mr Hawkings said:

“The bandstand would have been our second choice, but we were told we could not use it for seven of the 14 weekends we wanted, and it would cost £5 a day – including for the weekends it was not available. We are a charity trying to provide a service and we could not justify the costs involved.”

The group had to return the grant from the area members’ panel, but have not entirely given up hope. Mr Hawkings added:

“We will be speaking to Herne Bay MP Sir Roger Gale about it, and If there is a business who could offer us space and an electricity supply we may yet be able to go ahead. But there was no appetite from the council to support us to provide this service.”

As a compromise, the charity will open from Wednesday to Saturday from Easter, and Mr Beaumont is hoping to take a scooter to the market when it moves to the town centre. Council spokesman Rob Davies said officials were prepared to continue discussing the issue. He said:

“The council has had a number of informal discussions with Shopmobility about possible locations and has advised them of the concession application process. To date, no application has been received, but we remain very supportive of the great work they do for the community and are happy to discuss the matter further.”

Herne Bay Times, April 3rd 2014

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