COUNCILLORS have branded changes aimed at improving disabled access to bars and restaurants "wholly bizarre".
Highland Council’s licensing board is to write to the Scottish Government asking for more to be done to make premises easier for disabled people to enjoy.
The board was asked for opinions on changes which will require venues to fill out an access statement when applying for a premises licence, stating what disabled facilities they have.
But at a board meeting this week, wheelchair-bound councillor Andrew Jarvie pointed out that the changes only require business owners to have disabled facilities but does not specify to what standard they should be.
"This has been quite some time coming but I can’t help but feel bitterly disappointed," he said.
"All this asks is if there are disabled premises, it doesn’t ask for the facility to comply with the current standards.
"I can anticipate this being a tick-box exercise allowing venues to clear out a storage cupboard, put in a toilet and some handles and call it disabled facilities.
"Facilities and access must meet the standards. Not just say they have access but actually follow the regulations."
Council regulatory solicitor Susan Blease suggested that the board calls on the government’s licensing team to specify that disabled facilities meet building standards legislation, which was unanimously approved.
Councillors also expressed their disappointment that the government has no plans to hold a full consultation on the issue.
Despite seeking the advice of "relevant stakeholders" including disability support organisations, the issue has not been opened up to public comments as the government’s licensing team has deemed it to be of "fairly limited interest".
Cllr Jarvie said: "There seems to be no will to consult with the people who will use these facilities and know how to make them better.
"To say there is limited interested seems wholly bizarre.
"Disabled people have jobs, want to spend money and go out to socialise with friends and family, it’s a completely normal thing to do."
This was backed up by Councillor Liz MacDonald who deemed changes, which will only apply to new premises, "ineffective".
"I would like to emphasise how strongly I feel about there not being any consultation on this," she said.
"There are lots of groups and access panels throughout the Highlands who should all have been consulted on this.
"I think it’s very unfortunate that this is not stronger legislation that will not impact existing premises and will only be for new premises.
"It’s pretty ineffective."
The board agreed to put their concerns in writing to the government licensing team, as one of the statutory consultees.
But a Scottish Government spokesman insisted the views of its own equality unit and disability charities have been taken on board.
He said: "It will shortly become law for those applying for a liquor licence to provide a statement with their application which will containing information about disabled access to the premises.
"We are seeking views on guidance for applicants and an updated licensing form, engaging with relevant stakeholders, such as disability organisations, the trade, and local authorities.
"The draft guidance takes full account of earlier discussions with the Scottish Government equality unit and disability organisations, including Capability Scotland, the Disability Equality Forum and Inclusion Scotland."