Councillors have been accused of ‘playing politics with disability’ after criticising an authority’s purchase of a house on the grounds of access.
Conservatives members of Cramlington Town Council hit out at its purchase of a £350,000 house to act as a base, with one criticism the claim that local freeman, paralympian Stephen Miller would not be able to access it without major work.
Now, however, Labour rulers of the council have hit back at their critics accusing them of “plumbing the deaths” by “playing the disability card”, and have demanded an apology.
One of the Conservatives however said it was the duty of a responsible councillor to highlight the issue of disabled access.
The council is currently based at the town’s Concordia leisure centre but was asked to leave when plans were unveiled to improve the facility.
The Journal reported how the authority has agreed to the purchase of Surveyor’s House, a four bedroom detached property within Cramlington conservation area, which was on the market for £400,000 and also £325,000.
Tory councillors, who voted against the purchase at a private meeting, attacked the move. Couns Wayne Daley and Barry Flux claimed town resident Mr Miller, named a freeman of Cramlington last year and wheelchair reliant, will not be able to access the property unless substantial work is carried out.
This is because they say it has a narrow staircase, making access for anyone in a wheelchair or with a disability “impossible.”
Now, though, Labour bosses have said that a public work loan they took out to cover the cost of the purchase included provision for disabled access.
Labour also revealed the loan includes a further stipulation that the town precept will not be effected by the purchase, with a ‘marginal interest rate’.
Council leader Allan Hepple said: “It’s an outrageous attempt by the local Tories to play politics with a simple reality. We’ve got to vacate the current premises by the autumn and we need a new base.
“Couns Daley and Flux have put narrow party political considerations ahead of the town.
“It’s unforgiveable that they have sought to use issues of equal access to create a soundbite when a simple question to the town clerk would have confirmed that the council had already thought about this important issue. They need to apologise.
“We’re confident that the purchase of the Surveyor’s House would save the tax payer money which is why a Conservative secretary of state has approved the loan.”
Coun Daley said he stood by his comments and claimed his words “must have hit a raw nerve.”
He added: “I am sorry that the Labour group seem to think raising the issue of disability is sinking new depths.
“It is a core responsibility of anyone in public office to be aware of and for me it is a very important thing as somebody who worked in the disability sector for 14 years. It is something I am very passionate about.”