More than 300 able-bodied motorists were issued with tickets for parking in bays in the Melton borough reserved for drivers with disabilities last year.
And paralysed fundraiser and public speaker Claire Lomas says the offenders are making the challenges faced by people like her even more difficult because the extra room is needed to be able to get in and out of a vehicle from a wheelchair.
Her comments come at a time when the demand for disabled bays has been increased by new government legislation offering people with ‘hidden disabilities’, such as autism and mental health issues, the opportunity to apply for a blue badge, which entitles the holder to park in the restricted spaces.
Claire, of Eye Kettleby, who was left paralysed from the chest down following an equestrian accident in 2007 and who has gone on to raise £660,000 towards a cure for paralysis, said drivers who illegitimately use parking spaces reserved for disabled people were effectively taking their independence away from them.
She told the Melton Times: “I think a few more spaces are needed, but most of all people need to respect that these are for blue badge holders.
“Also people who use a wheelchair need the wider spaces - we can’t just park anywhere because of the space needed to get the wheelchair next to the car.
“I drop my daughter off at gymnastics at the Methodist Church on Sandy Lane on a Saturday and every time the two spaces are being used by people without badges. It takes away independence.
“Now I feel I have to get there really early so no-one is in the space and every time someone without a badge pulls up in the other disabled bay, even though there are usually other parking spaces.
“When I speak to them I think most of them just haven’t given it any thought and that they won’t be there long.
“I can’t get to my daughter if these bays aren’t available.”
A video posted by Claire on social media illustrating how she pulls her wheelchair alongside her car before manoeuvring herself into the driver’s seat and reaching over to meticulously take the chair apart and place the components and wheels in the passenger seat has had nearly half-a-million views.
One of the thousands of people who responded to it was Great Britain’s Paralympic track racing champion Hannah Cockcroft, who posted: “This is a brilliant demonstration from Claire as to why wheelchair users need to park in disabled bays. It’s not to be close to the door on a rainy day - it’s to be independent!”
Melton Council has 36 disabled spaces in its pay and display car parks across the borough and Leicestershire County Council has responsibility for a dozen on-street bays for blue badge holders.
Both authorities have confirmed that a total of 305 penalty charges were issued in the last year to motorists who parked in disabled spaces in the Melton borough when they had no right to do so.
It is unclear how many additional tickets were issued to drivers who parked illegitimately in spaces reserved for disabled motorists in car parks for local supermarkets and those operated by the town estate and private parking companies.
The councils both say they are evaluating whether more spaces need to be created in light of the change in legislation allowing more drivers to apply for a blue badge.
A Melton Council spokesperson said: “In the year 2018-19, 305 penalty charges were issued both on street and off street in Melton for drivers parking in a disabled bay without display of a valid blue badge.
“Melton Borough Council do not charge blue badge holders for parking in the car parks and they can park in any bay, as long as they abide by the restrictions and display a blue badge correctly.
“With the introduction of the new legislation, we will be monitoring usage levels to see the impact this has on capacity issues.”
County Hall said £1.7 million government funding was being made available to councils across the country who feel there is a need to create more spaces for motorists with a disability.
Blake Pain, county council cabinet member for environment and transport, said: “It’s too early to say what additional provision there will be as we’re going to evaluate the demand for more disabled parking spaces on a site-by-site basis as they arise.
“We’re still establishing the extent of the funding support we’ll receive following the recent Department of Transport announcement.”