A RETAILER has been branded "disgraceful and appalling" after it tried to scrap plans to improve disabled access at a branch of one of its high end stores.

A proposal submitted on behalf of Sports Direct suggested disabled customers "must make themselves known at the entrance" at a branch of Flannels in Darlington.

Towards the end of 2017, the firm which took over the former TK Maxx unit on Crown Street, applied to Darlington Borough Council to convert the site into two separate units, which was approved with conditions in January 2018.

One condition meant Flannels had to install a platform lift to allow those in wheelchairs access the shop floor.

The Northern Echo:

Adjacent Sports Direct itself has floor level access, but the units are divided Picture: GOOGLE

But an application for omission submitted towards the end of April, revealed Sports Direct applied to remove the obligation to provide a platform lift, suggesting disabled customers "must make themselves known at the entrance" of Flannels, before access is granted via the back-of-house area.

But branding the firm's application to remove the condition as "disgraceful" and "appalling", Gordon Pybus, chairman of Darlington Association on Disability, said alternatives were not viable and the firm did not guarantee that the back-of-house area would be free of obstructions.

He said: "Sports Direct got planning consent to open Flannels with a lift, but they never put the lift in – because Flannels put in a new application to add the condition to have the lift removed."

Mr Pybus, who originally suggested that Sports Direct install a ramp instead of a lift at its Flannels store, said the firm would rely on staff to be free, ready to assist those in wheelchairs, before having to navigate through available back office and stock room passages.

He said: "Sports Direct isn’t an easy place to get through, with the stock – and they proposed we go through that way.

"I think a ramp was better because they don’t break down, but if you are not going put a ramp in, then you still need to make your way across in case the lift breaks down.

"It is absolutely disgraceful for the multi-million-pound organisation to apply to have a condition to have a lift for disabled people removed. It is absolutely appalling."

Sports Direct's application to remove the condition to install the stair lift was formally rejected by the council in June.

A conclusion said there had been no justification to demonstrate why it was not possible to install it and considered customers being escorted through the back-of-house area 'unreasonable'.

It also said the proposal to simply retain stepped access without the platform lift, would not provide safe, convenient and attractive access for people.

  • The Northern Echo has contacted Sports Direct for a response.