Pavement Cafés and Street Furniture: Not For Us

The City of York Council Licensing and Regulatory Committee met on 26th April. On the agenda (item 6) was a report about businesses reopening with pavement cafés which stated there were no equality implications surrounding this. We strongly disagree.

We took our opportunity to speak at the meeting and sent the statement below to the members of the committee beforehand.

Our main points are:

  • when pavement café licenses are given to businesses in York, the needs of disabled people are not taken into account
  • pavement cafés are having a big impact on many disabled people, for example wheelchair and mobility aid users, visually impaired people and people with reduced mobility
  • for visually impaired people, pavement cafés put physical dangers in the way that can cause injury and loss of confidence
  • we don’t know of any pavement cafés that have carefully thought about how a disabled customer would use the café
  • the new public toilets that have been added in Parliament Street don’t include an accessible toilet
  • social distancing is now even harder for many disabled people
  • York city centre does not seem like a welcoming place for disabled people

The questions we are asking the Committee are:

  • How will the Committee correct the report that says there is no impact on disabled people?
  • How will the Council make sure that pavement cafés are accessible to disabled people?
  • How will the Council make sure that businesses are following the legal requirements of their pavement café license?

There are clear equality implications surrounding the licensing of pavement cafés.

Whilst York Disability Rights Forum understands the need for venues to have alternative seating given the restrictions of the pandemic, we were very concerned to read that the council believes there are no equalities implications associated with pavement cafés etc.

We would like to make it clear that we understand the importance of alternative provisions such as pavement cafes, however the implementation of the provision seems to have given no thought to the city’s disabled population.

In the government guidance, updated July 2020, it states that ‘where a pavement licence is granted, clear access routes on the highway will need to be maintained, taking into account the needs of all users, including disabled people’. However it seems in York, this stipulation has been overlooked.

Pavement cafés are having a significant impact on disabled people who are visiting the city centre. For example, they create obstructions that require someone to get off the pavement, onto the road and back onto the pavement. There are clearly many reasons why this might be an issue for disabled people, including but not limited to people who use wheelchairs or mobility aids, or who have reduced mobility. It also creates an obstruction for parents with prams and pushchairs. 

For people who are visually impaired, obstructions such as street and cafe furniture can cause injury and loss of confidence. Where such areas are not fully enclosed, it can result in people knocking into tables and chairs, and unintentionally getting well within the required 2 metres for social distancing. YDRF have been made aware of pavement cafes where there is no barrier on the street side and a number of cases where there is no tap rail for long cane users to detect.

The layout of street furniture and pavement cafes seem to have given little consideration to the impact on disabled people who are using the street. Further we are yet to find a cafe that has carefully considered how accessible the cafe itself is for disabled customers.

The report states that additional toilets have been placed on Parliament Street.  However, a blog post from Make It York and City of York Council, states that whilst they’ve tried to source an accessible toilet, one hasn’t been supplied. As such, those disabled people who need an accessible toilet have had no additional toilet facilities provided – and this has not been made clear in the report.

With all of this in mind, we cannot see how the committee has concluded that there are no equality implications and, by making that conclusion, the committee has abdicated itself of any responsibility to mitigate against such implications. 

We would like to know how the committee will amend the report’s findings in light of our statement and what advice and guidance will be given to licensed premises to ensure the city of York remains an accessible and welcoming space for all people. Further, how will accessibility requirements of pavement cafes be monitored and enforced?

Social distancing queuing has already been impacting on the city’s streets and pavements and, as it stands, our access to the city centre has been further reduced as a result of unconsidered pavement furniture.  This comes in the wake of the removal of city centre Blue Badge parking, adding to the message that disabled people are not welcome.

We would also like to remind the council of its legal responsibility around equality, as set out in the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty.

The issues highlighted are not the only ways that disabled people are impacted by the street furniture and pavement cafe and we strongly encourage the committee, and the council, to learn much more about disability, accessibility and inclusion.


Watch the recording of the meeting on the City of York Council website.

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