The Labour Group on City of York Council has condemned the decision to uphold the exclusion of disabled blue badge holders from York city centre. The decision was taken this week by a meeting of the Liberal Democrat and Green Party coalition’s ruling executive.
The vote was preceded by moving accounts from many disabled residents who have been affected by the temporary ban which has been in place since last year. Despite this, the Lib-Dems and Greens voted unanimously to make the ban permanent.
Labour’s transport spokesperson, Councillor Rachel Melly expressed her disapproval of the ban.
“From the significant scrutiny work undertaken prior to this decision, it was clear that Lib-Dem and Green councillors had alternative options available to permanently barring many disabled people from visiting and enjoying the city centre.
“A number of disabled people gave personal testimony and explained exactly why a blue badge holder ban would leave them excluded, and the council officer report even acknowledged some disabled people would be excluded from York city centre. Yet still ruling councillors opted to approve the ban regardless. This is a discriminatory decision that has left a lot of disabled people feeling disregarded”.
One member of the Liberal Democrat ruling administration has described disabled blue badge access to the city centre as a ‘privilege’ claiming that ‘withdrawing a privilege is not discrimination’. Councillor Tony Fisher, who represents Strensall Ward for the Liberal Democrats, has also suggested that there are plenty of options for disabled people, despite officers’ acceptance that some will be completely locked out.
Opposition Labour Group Leader, Cllr Pete Kilbane, says ruling councillors appear to have failed to understand the council’s equality duty.
“Local councils have a duty to promote greater access for disabled people,” he said, “not make their lives more difficult. In Bath, a similar situation arose before the Lib Dem council leader and Chief Constable there agreed a change to the proposals to permit blue badge holder access into the city centre.
“So the York decision is about political intransigence and a ‘we know best’ attitude, rather than doing as other cities have done and listened to their residents.
“That is a big part of the problem now in York. Residents don’t think the council listens. On this proposal, 201 members of the public formally opposed the ban and just 5, or just over 2%, backed it. That ruling councillors backed the 2% tells the public all they need to know about taking part in council consultations.
“Disabled people have given hours of their time trying to explain what these changes would mean to them and yet this has either been ignored or discounted. It’s no wonder that they now say they have lost all faith in the Council”.
Labour said the council’s actions potentially open the decision up to legal challenge and a Judicial Review, and will support disabled people’s organisations in taking any action they feel necessary and appropriate. The Group also promised that when it returns to power in York it will work closely with the disabled community to improve access across the whole city.