Words: Richard Beecham, local democracy reporter
A war of words has broken out between Leeds’s two biggest political parties over disabled toilets in the city, with calls made to install the facilities in places like Pudsey Park.
The leader of Leeds City Council’s Conservatives group this week urged the authority’s Labour administration to take advantage of a new £30m Government fund to provide disabled toilet facilities in the city, adding there were now “no more excuses
But a senior figure in the Labour group has insisted the council is leading the way with installing such facilities, and has called the Conservatives’ criticisms “ironic”, considering its Government’s decade of cuts to local council funding.
The new Changing Places fund enables local authorities to apply for a share of £30m that will provide funding to install hi-tech disabled toilets in public places.
Leeds Conservatives group Coun Andrew Carter (Calverley & Farsley) has urged the authority to chase the funding, accusing them of making “no progress”. He added:
“We called on the council four years ago to offer grants for changing places and it has featured in every budget amendment we have put forward since then.
“For reasons that I have never understood the ruling administration has continually voted against our amendment. This government scheme now leaves no excuse and they must get on and apply for this funding.
“The long term aim of the council should be to have changing places facilities in every community, and to start with they should be provided in large parks where they are not already located and also much-visited parks like Pudsey Park – the most visited of the medium-sized parks in Leeds.
“These facilities are vital and the administration now needs to be looking to ensure as many of these as possible are delivered, it can’t be that the city only provides them in Leeds City Centre – more needs to be done and this is the perfect time to start.”
Leeds City Council’s executive member for adult and children’s social care Coun Fiona Venner (Lab, Kirkstall) said the council is “absolutely committed” to providing Changing Places toilet facilities, adding:
“Significant progress has been made with Leeds climbing to the top of a league table of local authorities providing them. Leeds has 45 Changing Places locations in total.”
Coun Venner said such facilities were available in City Museum, Kirkgate Market and Leeds Playhouse, as well as numerous parks, attractions and leisure centres around the city, and that there were plans for more in 2022. She added:
“We’d like to do more and it is richly ironic that the Tory opposition is criticising the Labour administration when their government’s cruel austerity measures have disproportionately hit disabled people over the last 11 years.
“Inadequate funding of social care; cuts to local authority budgets which provide support services; and the heart-breaking impact of welfare reform have seen many disabled people and their carers struggling to get by on reduced incomes with anxiety over what the future may bring.
“The Labour council will continue to do everything we can to lobby for social care reform, improve access and facilities for disabled people and provide the best services we can for the residents of Leeds.”