Courthouse access is no ‘joke’ for disabled visitors

  • June 24, 2008
  • Bruce Bromley

THE start of another tourist season has come and gone and there has been no change to what one local councillor has called a “standing joke” in Selkirk.

Kenneth Gunn was referring to the enduring saga of the ramp designed to ease the passage of wheelchair users into the historic Sir Walter Scott’s Courtroom in Market Place.

The trouble is that to get to the ramp, people in wheelchairs must negotiate four flights of what are locally known as the Fleshmarket steps.

“For about two decades we have had a disabled access which cannot be accessed by the disabled” said Mr Gunn. “It’s a standing joke, although I don’t suppose it’s funny for those who can’t get in to see one of the town’s most historic attractions.”

Mr Gunn says Scottish Borders Council, which operates the courtroom through its museum service, has been aware of the problem for some time. “I have attended several meetings on the site with officials over the years, but to date, no solution has been forthcoming.

“A major issue has been the gradient of the steps which, if ramped, would still be too steep for wheelchair users and would present even more danger to them coming back down.”

From October 2004, under disability discrimination legislation, disabled people have the right to expect no physical barriers will exist in the provision of access and facilities within public buildings.

As from yesterday, the courtroom is open to the public on seven days a week.

The reality is that the principal users of the ramp are museum staff who carry the lifesize promotional cut-out of the great writer in and out of the courtroom.

A spokesman for SBC told The Wee Paper yesterday: “This council is the leading Scottish local authority in terms of compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act, so it is certainly not a case of us ignoring our responsibilities. The act states that ‘reasonable adjustments’ be made where possible to allow disabled access to our buildings. The work carried out to date in Selkirk is the best adjustment we can make at the moment. Because of the style and lay-out of the building and the steepness of the surrounding streets, we are severely limited on what we can do.

“A number of options are being looked at for the future and these include providing a virtual tour of the courthouse from Halliwell’s Museum which is fully accessible or waiting until the lease on the Courthouse Coffee Shop comes up for renewal and then investigate the possibility of an internal lift.

“People in Selkirk can be assured, however, that we will keep looking at the situation to investigate what can be done in the near future to improve access to this important building.”

The courthouse will be closed to the public from Thursday to Sunday, June 12 to 15, for Selkirk Common Riding.