On Thursday 15th July, York Labour took a motion to a full council meeting (agenda item 8) that seeks to make the city centre fully accessible. The motion passed but with significant ammendments and we will be posting a blog that explores those changes and what they mean for the motion shortly.
Ahead of the meeting, Labour Councillor Rachel Melly said:
“We believe York is a welcoming city but unfortunately that isn’t true of the city centre for some of our disabled residents, who say they cannot shop and do other things in the centre since their access has been restricted. This motion is about reviewing the whole topic of accessibility, from getting in and out of the pedestrianised footstreets area, to ensuring all the facilities needed are available to people once they get there.”
The motion reiterated that an earlier 2019 approved council motion to alter access within the walls applies only to non-essential vehicle journeys and was absolutely explicit in requiring an ongoing, meaningful dialogue with blue badge holders and groups such as us.
Labour Councillor Jonny Crawshaw explained:
“Being able to access York doesn’t just mean being able to get to and from the edge of the footstreets area. If we are to have a fully Accessible York we need to see a range of measures put in place – from dignified public transport options for wheelchair users to suitable benches, accessible toilets and baby change facilities across the centre of the city. We recognise that there are a great many positives to extending the footstreets area but the Council has an obligation to ensure that everyone who wants to come into York can feel confident and able to do so.
“That not only means making it as easy as possible for people not to be dependent on a car but also means accepting and understanding that for some Blue Badge Holders, a car is their only option – it really is an essential journey. We know the solutions to this aren’t always easy, but it’s essential that Councillors and Officers stop falling into the trap of pitting the needs of one disabled group against another”.
As well as our own statement supporting the motion, there were several other people speaking in support and highlighting the discriminatory nature of the proposed changes.
York Disability Rights Forum statement
I am speaking on behalf of York Disability Rights Forum to the motion ‘Ensuring Access for All’.
York is a Human Rights City and every local authority also has duties under the Equality Act. The Council’s effective exclusion of many disabled people from their own city centre violates both. It violates the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by failing to ensure our human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected alongside non-disabled people. Incidentally this includes our right to take part in cultural life, something that this Council said it would ensure it included in their recently launched Cultural Strategy.
The Council’s own survey in September 2020 found that more than 3/4s of Blue Badge holders disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “There is parking close enough to allow me access to the city centre”. And yet the Council continues to claim that disabled people welcome the removal of central Blue Badge parking!
Disabled people are not an homogeneous group so access requires a range of measures to be in place – BUT this must include Blue Badge spaces close enough to the places they need to go. Alternative access routes – crucial though they are will not be sufficient to meet the needs of all disabled people.
Saying that some people have felt safer as a result of the changes does not erase the impact on those now excluded. Safety and access are two different issues: both need attention. Disabled people in the city have been working together on this despite what feels like repeated attempts by the Council to set one group against another; it’s time that the Council stopped trying to divide us.
Out of 26 respondents with sensory impairments only 2 agree/strongly agree with the statement “There is parking close enough to allow me access to the city centre”
Further, the biased nature of the survey means that respondents were led in their answers
York Disability Rights Forum was formed over a year ago to develop a pan-disability voice and space in the city. We have been inundated with people contacting us about city centre access, with heartbreaking stories from those no longer able to reach the Central Post Office, their only bank branch, or even to visit the places they love such as City Screen. We wish you could start to hear, really hear, those stories and the impact of your measures.
Despite the Healthier, Greener York motion stating that the Executive Member for Transport should work “closely with disability advocacy groups…” we did not hear directly from him until 28th June 2021 and then only in response to an email that we sent to him. All he did was direct us to contribute to the surveys currently open.
Access is not an issue of preference or convenience but of law and decency. It is vital that you understand this if you are serious about respecting our human rights and rebuilding badly broken trust.
Please take a moment and put yourselves into our shoes – not only with many of our members excluded from our city centre and its amenities but made to feel as if we are all, as disabled people, expendable, a nuisance and not worthy of being in your spaces.
We support the motion urging immediate national action on social care; we now need you to apply the same principles to local access matters.
We have been in this situation for over a year and there are no signs of immediate change, which is contributing to an increased sense of isolation and loneliness within the disability community.