York Labour transport spokesperson, Cllr Rachel Melly
York Labour transport spokesperson, Cllr Rachel Melly

Labour’s transport spokesperson on City of York Council, Councillor Rachel Melly, has expressed a concern that the council needs to revisit the issue of city centre access with disability advocacy groups. Many disabled York residents feel they are negatively impacted by the new pedestrianisation measures in the city.

Cllr. Melly stated that, in light of the current crisis, physical distancing measures, and the need for a safe, equitable economic recovery, it is right that the council is proactive and creative in changing our public spaces to be safer and more welcoming. She said that she hopes that there will be long term positive benefits from extended foot-streets for the health and wellbeing of York’s residents, local businesses, and the environment, but worried that the changes may not have been handled well.

“The process of placing restrictions on blue badge holder vehicle access to the city centre, and particularly the communications to those badge holders, were botched by the council. Blue badge holders were not consulted and, in some cases, only informed of the changes weeks after they were implemented.”

Nearly one quarter (22%) of disabled respondents to a council survey said they didn’t support measures closing Blake Street and part of Goodramgate to blue badge holders, while a higher 36% are opposed to the council’s Monk Bar car park shuttle taxi service alternative.

“The rushed-in restrictions affecting Goodramgate and Blake Street are the ones that have caused most worry for disabled residents” she added. “These streets provided vehicle access to the city centre and Blue Badge parking bays which have now been closed off”.

Some residents have said they feel the council’s tone in communications places the onus on blue badge holders themselves to support the changes, when the council’s changes have made their lives considerably more difficult.  Others say the council’s recent slogan attached to it’s ‘Let’s be York’ campaign – Safe, Welcoming, Considerate – appears to apply to everyone except the disabled population of the city.

Cllr. Melly spoke at the council’s recent Executive meeting to highlight the impact of the rushed restrictions on disabled residents, many of whom find the taxi shuttle service based at Monk Bar car park doesn’t meet their needs, or fails to give them confidence to visit the city centre to shop.

“People cite a ‘second Council-imposed lockdown’ to describe how they feel impacted by this policy” she said.  “Given it remains unclear whether or not the council will seek to make these changes permanent, leading officers and ruling councillors need to listen to those impacted and implement any necessary changes to ensure disabled residents can freely shop and visit the city centre once again”.

Labour’s York Central MP, Rachael Maskell, has received contact from residents badly impacted by the changes.  She said:

“It is disappointing that the council have not done more to help disabled people access the city centre.  I have received numerous messages from constituents who tell me they feel as if they do not matter simply because they are disabled.  The council’s road closures prevent them from shopping or going to their favourite places.  For many going in to the centre of York is no longer an option.

“It is clear that the road closures did not go through a proper equality impact assessment before they were implemented and mitigation was not sufficiently put in place.  The council must now work with York’s disabled communities to find solutions.  One idea which I have already suggested is for there to be a quiet morning so that local disabled or vulnerable residents can access the city centre with reduced risks.  It is worth remembering that disabled people and vulnerable groups have money to spend too and things they need to purchase.  They must be allowed to access the city centre.  We are all equal and the council would do well to remember this.”

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