Disabled park moved so that East West Link protest van can stay

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Herald Sun: Disabled park moved so that East West Link protest van can stay. Samantha Landy 22 January 2014

Police have clashed with East West Link protesters who are forming human barriers to disrupt site access.

An inner-city council has allowed­ East West Link protesters to dump their caravan “headquarters” in a disabled park for the past four months.

In a controversial move which has angered local business owners, City of Yarra opted to move the disabled parking spot near the Westgarth and Brunswick St corner in Fitzroy to a different space rather than force demonstrators to move it.

The blue disabled parking symbol is visible underneath the van, which is also blocking easy-access ramps for wheelchairs built into the stone gutter at either end of the park.

Yarra mayor Jackie Fristacky said the council considered “a number of options” when informed of the caravan being parked in the spot in early October. “Council could have towed it, but that would have been pretty extreme,” Cr Fristacky said.

“There is a right to peaceful protest. There is significant community support for the objectives of the group, and they align with council objectives.”

Cr Fristacky said the caravan served as a hub where people could access information about the multi-billion dollar road tunnel.

She said disabled community members were not disadvantaged, as a new parking bay had been created for them one spot down from where the caravan sits.

Protest organiser Anthony Main said the parking spot was chosen because it was a proposed site for test drilling.

Drilling was instead carried out on the other side of Brunswick St in mid-December, during which protesters violently clashed with police.

Mr Main said Yarra councillors had “unanimously agreed” to allow the van to occupy the space after protesters approached them.

“Within a day or two, council moved the disabled parking spot forward,” he said.

The owner of a nearby restaurant, who wished to remain anonymous, said he had spotted “quite a lot of disabled people” struggling to get wheelchairs out of the new parking spot, which does not have built-in ramps.

He said the caravan had turned people away from his business by obscuring it from sight.

He had pleaded with protesters and the council for the van to be moved, to no avail.

“Protesters threatened to picket us and stop people coming in if we took it further,” he said.

“They’re not in the business of compromising. Our business has suffered.”

Mr Main said the caravan would remain in the space until protesters had finished picketing test drilling sites, and would then be taken on a tour “to places where (Premier Denis) Napthine thinks he has support” for the road project

samantha.landy@news.com.au

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