December 10 2013 Latest news:
by Tom Marshall
Friday, October 18, 2013
A renowned artist and disability rights champion has slammed claims that Hampstead Heath station cannot be made fully accessible – saying if humanity can put a man on the moon then a wheelchair ramp is not beyond the reach of Transport for London (TfL).
Sculptor Tony Heaton, who was made an OBE in the summer after his work featured in the Paralympics, said transport bosses have offered a “feeble excuse” for refusing to build a permanent ramp.
Lifts are being installed at the Overground station to help disabled people reach the nearby Royal Free Hospital more easily – at a cost of £1million.
But TfL upset campaigners last week saying that there would be no accompanying ramp at platform level, insisting it would be impossible because trains of differing sizes pass through the station.
Mr Heaton, of Belsize Avenue, Belsize Park, whose artwork was used as a lectern for Lord Sebastian Coe at the Paralympics opening ceremony, said: “I think it’s quite a feeble excuse. It sounds to me like they can’t be bothered to solve the problem because it’s just too much trouble.
“It’s all down to design. If we managed to get a man on the moon in 1969, I’m sure they can design some compromise between freight trains and passenger trains.”
Mr Heaton has experience helping institutions such as the Royal Opera House to become fully accessible in his job as chief executive of disability arts charity Shape Arts, based in Greenwood Place, Kentish Town.
Residents and councillors are furious that TfL has no plans for a ramp, with some saying the lift risks becoming a costly waste.
Wheelchair users have been advised to call 24 hours before using the station to warn staff they will need help with a portable ramp.
“It definitely doesn’t make the station accessible without,” said Mr Heaton.
“It’s partial access – you can’t do it yourself. In this time of technology all stations should be accessible – it’s unforgivable really.”
Mike Stubbs, TfL’s director of London Overground, said: “When this work is completed in spring next year, wheelchair and mobility scooter users will be able to board the trains via portable ramps. London Overground staff will be available at this station at all times while trains are running and, while 24-hour notice is preferred, they will do their best to assist any disabled person at any time irrespective of whether they have pre-booked assistance.
“This includes deploying the portable ramps when required.”