Today we spoke at a meeting of the Decision Session for the Executive Member for Transport, City of York Council, on the future of the extended footstreets, or the pedestrianised areas of York city centre. Below is the statement we delivered. The full meeting can be watched on the council’s webcasts page. The future of the footstreets is agenda item 5.
The meeting was to report on “the proposal for the advertisement of the statutory consultation for amending the Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) with the effect of removal of certain vehicle exemptions during the pedestrian hours and to propose potential mitigation measures.” In plainer English, this means they are discussing officially beginning the consultation required to make the TRO permanent. Legally, this is a seperate consultation to the one we spoke about last year.
The temporary TRO in place right now means Blue Badge holders are no longer allowed to park or access Blake Street, Church Street, Colliergate, Goodramgate, Kings Square, Lendal and St Helen’s Square. The one discussed today would make this permanent.
As well as our statement, see below, Forum member Rose also spoke to the council and has shared her views with us about how the removal of Blue Badge access to the city centre has created a “segregated, privileged and ableist space”:
The removal of the ability of blue badge holders to access the city centre has created a segregated, privileged and ableist space. Segregation creates prejudice, in a time when benefits-streaked TV shows fan hatred of the disabled. Also the very reason that Blue Badges exist is to enable disabled motorists, or their car occupants, to get to as near as to their destination as possible, in as short a time as possible. None of this ‘two-hour taxi’ stuff. No council members making this decision deal with overt physical impairment – yet. We all end up enfeebled by age at the very least. Unless we drop dead at 35.
York Disability Rights Forum statement
We are at a point in the pandemic where most people are looking forward to, or are already, enjoying getting back into the city we love. However, the ongoing subject of the footstreet extensions remains on the minds of many disabled people, whether residents of the area or regular visitors.
We acknowledge the proposed improvements to the Blue Badge parking provision on the outskirts of the pedestrianised area and have commented on them. However, whilst these spaces offer some Blue Badge holders some hope of getting into the city centre, they are not suitable for all and do not replace what has been lost in terms of location and proximity to destinations.
The temporary measures to extend the footstreets were put in place to “allow social distancing and to allow businesses to continue to operate during the pandemic.” However, it appears to many of our members that the council has used this to introduce the changes they had wanted to make anyway, and in the process disregard the rights of many disabled people to access the city centre. The pandemic appears to have been used to introduce temporary measures which, whilst the official line is that they were always just temporary, have created a sort of trojan horse to bring in permanent measures.
We continue to hear weekly from people affected by the changes. The devastating impact it has on their day to day life, their quality of living, feeling of belonging and social lives has been horrific to hear about. The people who have contacted us represent all ages, from younger people wanting to meet their friends to older people wanting to access support such as St Sampsons Centre or get to the central Post Office and amenities they’ve always accessed. Whilst we do our best to represent these voices through consultations, this inevitably creates a degree of emotional distancing for the council as you do not get to hear directly the heartfelt stories that we hear.
We strongly encourage the council to follow up on previously suggested mapping exercises to establish which areas of the city are currently not accessible for anyone unable to get more than 50m from their vehicle. It is also essential to consider how the current Changing Places and other accessible toilets are located in relation to the parking offer proposed today.
We would like to encourage an ongoing, genuine conversation about the Traffic Regulation Order and the related mitigations. We would also welcome more notice for future workshops etc so that we can ensure all our members are informed and able to participate in meaningful ways.
We would also ask that when discussing the survey results from last September a degree of nuance is involved. Whilst many disabled people can acknowledge the increased safety, or sense of safety, that comes with reduced traffic in the city centre, we can also believe we are entitled to access the city we live in. They are not mutually exclusive and the way the results are discussed does not allow for this nuance to be present; instead they are used to present a false picture of the views of disabled people.
Further, it will be the case that at least some of those disabled people acknowledging the increased safety are not blue badge holders and hence not affected by the removal of such parking. Such differentiation is important in this context.
The survey responses, as accessed via York Open Data, actually showed that 78% of people who are Blue Badge holders disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “There is parking close enough to allow me access to the city centre”. We are concerned that the way data and statistics are being used is positioning certain groups of disabled people in opposition to each other.
Reducing traffic in the city centre and retaining accessibility are not in opposition. For example, York Civic Trust have, in their suggestions for the Transport Plan, said that the council should extend the pedestrian area, whilst allowing access for disabled people through a permit scheme. A solution which would reconcile both the need to reduce traffic in the city centre without excluding disabled people.
We welcome the move towards improved information about blue badge parking and the ongoing engagement with the disability community and hope that the council continues to listen and engage with ourselves, other disabled people led organisations and disabled people who want to live, work and shop in the city they call home.
Thank you for letting us speak. We are also aware that the maximum number of speakers was reached and have heard from several people who wanted to speak about this issue themselves. This is clearly a big concern for York’s disabled residents.