For nearly 40 years hundreds of deaf people have used a council-owned car park to be able to access a vital Norwich service.
However, members of the Norwich Deaf Community Centre have now been told by council officials they can no longer park there.
Now, calls are being made to reopen an unused underground 80-space car park nearby, to ensure users of the centre can still park there.
The car park belongs to the Norfolk County Council-run Vauxhall Centre, in Johnson Place, off Vauxhall Street, but through a “gentleman's agreement”, users of the adjacent deaf community have been able to park there.
But new regulations only allow them to use the car park in the evenings and at the weekends.
The changes mean the deaf centre users now have to either park on the nearby roads, many of which are for permit holders only, or use a public car park, the closest of which is thought to be the multi-storey in St Giles Street.
Peter Gosse, 80, vice president of the Norfolk Deaf Association who has set up a petition, said: “To tell deaf people who use the centre during the day who have physical or mobility problems that they cannot park there any longer and have to make their own way there, is a bit much.
“Most of the other people using the Vauxhall Centre are local people. I don't mind walking within reason but my wife has mobility problems and a lot of the deaf people are elderly.”
Up to 45 people use the centre every Tuesday for the Tuesday Deaf Club. Users also make use of the community centre almost everyday of the week. The deaf people come from anywhere in Norwich or up to 30 miles out of the city.
The Vauxhall Centre has historically provided day support for disabled people but last year branched out to become the site for one of the city's new SureStart Children's Centres.
The deaf community centre, meanwhile, is run by Deaf Connexions and although it is part of the same building, it has a separate lease and is run independently.
Sue Moore, Deaf Connexions manager, said: “We never had any rights to park there but they have let us out of kindness.
“Some of the users are not happy because they have got to walk a bit further or pay to park but the Vauxhall Centre has more people who are disabled and have mobility problems than what we do.
“We are trying to get the underground car park opened. It's such a wasted asset. Together with the Vauxhall Centre, we are willing to maintain it and keep it secure. There are 80 spaces there which could be used by staff and able-bodied people.”
Paul Bowerbank, county manager for sensory services at Norfolk County Council, said: “Many people who use the Vauxhall Centre have extremely limited mobility and therefore they must have priority to use our car park.
“The car park beneath the Vauxhall Centre is currently not in use due to safety concerns. In the past the facility has not been secure and we have had people sleeping rough there, arson attacks and abandoned cars left. At present, there are no immediate plans to re-open the car park.”
Norwich Evening News