Soho to become more accessible for the disabled after years of campaigning

Campaigners who have battled for years to make Soho more accessible for disabled people hailed a major victory today as plans to improve wheelchair access were given the green light.

The high kerbs of the bustling nightlife district in central London are to be transformed with lower access points for wheelchairs and scooters.

It comes after years of tireless campaigning by activists and wheelchair-users including Christopher Andrats, who said the decision will save disabled people from having to go out of their way on “lengthy, tedious” journeys. 

“There are some streets in Soho and the West End which it is simply impossible to get along in a wheelchair because of high kerbs at junctions and lack of kerb drops,” he said.

Changes: The kerbs will be dropped to make it easier for wheelchair users (SGENET/Pixabay)

“I myself have witnessed many other wheelchair users making detours, or going into the road.

“I saw one man, in Noel St, who had to get out of his wheelchair and hobble in clearly visible pain across a junction without kerb drops, pushing his wheelchair in front of him, before effortfully sitting back down into it.

“It’s disgraceful and grossly unfair that wheelchair users are presented with these frequent barriers,” he added. “This is not in line with modern ideas about accessibility, equal rights, and discrimination.” 

Rude commuter tries to push past guide dog

Mr Andrats said he has been campaigning for the infrastructure change for four years and considers this decision a “victory”.

Locations of planned kerb drops

Jctn  of Eaton Row & Hobart Place 

Jctn of Smith’s Court & Great Windmill St

Jctn of Wardour St & Old Compton St

Jctn of Wardour St & Peter St 

Jctn of Berwick St & Livonia St 

Jctn of Berwick St & D’Arblay St (east side)

Jctn of Berwick St & Noel St (east side)

Jctn of Newman St & Newman Passage 

Jctn of Ebury St & Grosvenor Gardens Mews North

Jctn of Graham Terrace & Bourne St, all 4 corners

Jctn of Barlow Place and Bruton St 

Jctn of Bourdon St and Grosvenor St 

Jctn of Berkeley Sq and Hill St 

Jctn of Vigo St and Burlington Gardens

Jctn of Vigo St and Sackville St

Jctn of Brewer St and Lower James St

Jctn of Brewer St and Bridle Lane

Jctn of Brewer St and Great Pulteney St

Noel St, driveway outside YHA/Morgan Lowell

Noel St, jctn with car park opposite YHA/Morgan Lowell

Westminster Council said the move was part of pre-existing plans for the area.  

In an email from the council’s infrastructure department, seen by the Standard, it says the council is taking “measures to address the deficiencies by introducing a dropped kerb replacement programme”.

It confirms 20 junctions where the alterations will be made in the next four months.

Councillor Danny Chalkley, cabinet member for city highways said: “Improving accessibility for residents and visitors is a high priority for the Council, and we are currently implementing a programme of improvements that includes more dropped kerbs around the city.

“Soho is one of these areas scheduled for a series of improvements, which includes 20 new dropped kerbs.”

He added: “We always appreciate feedback from the public on how we can improve the accessibility of our public roads.”

Disability awareness charity Transport for All has been supporting Mr Andrats with his campaign.

Chair Alan Benson welcomed the announcement for more “crucial” dropped kerbs, saying: “The fact pavements in Westminster – one of the most touristic areas in London – have been missing them for so long is a scandal.

Our member Chris Stapleton, who is a wheelchair user, has spent years contacting the council on this crucial issue but was always knocked back.

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“Transport for All therefore really welcomes the great news that after much campaigning Westminster Council has finally agreed to install some drop kerbs around Soho. 

“Disabled and older people are not second-class citizen: we want to travel, shop and enjoy the West End like everyone else. 

“We really hope that Westminster Council will work to improve access to their streets for wheelchair and mobility scooter users.”

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