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Impasse over Assembly access

Disability rights campaigners have attacked the Richard Rogers Partnership's Welsh Assembly building for failing to champion disabled access. Advisers to the project team on access issues are considering walking out of discussions in protest at the lack of progress.

And the Disability Rights Commission has warned that the building could breach the Government of Wales Act that obliges the Assembly 'to promote equality of opportunity'.

Chief executive of Disability Wales Rhian Davies - who leads the advisory team - said that the concept behind the building (pictured), placing the chamber on a raised platform reached by a series of wide steps, creates fundamental problems of access.

'Steps and access don't go together, ' she said, adding that 'lots of work has been done to try to mitigate the constraints of the design'.

However, it is the detailed design of the chamber itself that threatens to spark the walk-out . Because of the need for clear sight lines for television cameras, wheelchair users will only be able to enter by platform lifts - a measure usually employed to convert old buildings but not the ideal solution for new buildings.

A frustrated Davies said: 'We have consistently raised our concerns about these proposals. But we have now reached an impasse.'

Davies said it was 'a matter of deep regret' that 'the most prestigious building in Wales' would fail to reach the exemplary standards the assembly had set as its goal. 'The chamber has a symbolic value. It should reflect the aspirations of our society towards full social inclusion.'

'This is a civil rights issue and we would want to see architects and contractors address this issue fully and with the weight and seriousness that it requires, ' she added. 'For disabled people, design can either enable inclusion or keep people excluded.'

Alun Thomas of the Disability Rights Commission for Wales agreed that the building was a wasted opportunity: 'It was intended to be an exemplar public building. But that's not what we are going to get.'

In a statement, the Welsh Assembly responded: 'The new national assembly is a building which goes significantly beyond current building regulations in terms of access. All public areas are 100 per cent accessible to all and our access consultant's view is that 70 per cent of the seats in the chamber are accessible to wheelchair users with the platform lift solution.'

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