THE financial argument behind rolling out disabled parking charges in Darlington "does not add up" according to the chair of a disability charity.

On Monday, Darlington Borough Council became the latest authority in the region to charge blue badge holders to use their off-street car parks.

The contentious move was announced as a potential revenue generator in 2016 as part of a £12.5m programme of budget cuts.

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Gordon Pybus, chair of Darlington Association on Disability, believes the charges will result in blue badge holders blocking on-street spaces, thus depriving the council of income from other motorists.

Previously, those with blue badges could park for up to three hours for free in council run car parks and on-street disabled bays, for three hours on some double yellow lines and without limit in other on-street bays.

They will now face the same charges as all other motorists in council-run car parks, where tickets cost on average around £1 an hour and £4 a day.

A number of potential issues and problems were highlighted during a consultation exercise, including difficulties in accessing ticket machines, the extended length of time often needed to complete day-to-day tasks and the inability of many people to use public transport instead.

In response, DBC made some concessions, introducing ticket machines that are compliant with disability legislation and tickets that are transferable between car parks for blue badge holders.

However, they have been accused of failing to act on other concerns raised by DAD and others.

Gordon Pybus said the financial motivation behind the plans did not add up, and that it was wrong to target disabled people who already pay for their blue badge.

He added: “Blue badge holders don't have the choice of using a car – the option to use public transport, cycle or walk long distances is not there for them.

“When it comes to the financial argument, people are just going to park without limit on-street rather than pay. We are already seeing that demonstrated in the new multi-storey car park, where disabled bays – which cannot be removed – are very rarely used. They’re then taking up spaces on the street where someone else would have paid and that’s where the finances do not add up."

Mr Pybus also said the charges should have been introduced as a trial to allow for the resolution of any problems.

In response, Cllr Nick Wallis said: “This has been done for financial reasons, £12.5m of savings needed to be made. We are not the first authority in the region to do this and I'm not aware of any problems incurred by others.

“We did respond to some points made through the consultation and we have a good record in the number of disabled bays here.

“This is a necessary change as we were faced with a very difficult set of decisions. We have readily available disabled bays on and off-street and if people don't want to use them, there are other parking areas.

“Nobody has a crystal ball to see what future problems could be but we always keep any changes under review. We estimate that the charges will bring in around £50,000 a year and when you look at the scale of the cuts and reductions we’ve had to make, that is a significant amount of money.”

There will be a “grace period” until February 28, wherein motorists parking in disabled bays without paying will receive a reminder rather than a fine.