Objections to the footstreet proposals must reach City of York Council by 6th August. To make this easier for individuals, we provided templates and have recently reached out to other organisations in the city for their support. We are calling on them to add their name to the following open letter. As such, this is a working document and we will be editing it to add organisations.
The open letter has been discussed in local media and the listed individuals, organisations and groups have supported it. If you, your group or organisation would like to add your support, please email us and we’ll add your name. NB, please contact us by midday on 13th August.
We, the undersigned, would like to formally object to the proposed footstreet extensions which are in breach of equality law. As City of York Council’s consultations have shown, the temporary extensions have discriminated, disproportionately, against disabled people.
From the survey September 2020 (York Open Data), 156 out of 201 (78%) 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”
The Equality Act (Equality and Human Rights Commission) explains that having due regard for advancing equality involves:
- Removing or minimising disadvantages suffered by people due to their protected characteristics.
- Taking steps to meet the needs of people from protected groups where these are different from the needs of other people.
- Encouraging people from protected groups to participate in public life or in other activities where their participation is disproportionately low.
Far from minimising disadvantages suffered by disabled people, City of York Council’s decision to make the footstreet extensions permanent increases them. The steps being taken to improve access to the city centre are slow in coming and, as we have stated previously, are still going to result in some disabled people being excluded from the city centre permanently.
We continue to hear 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 or get to the central Post Office to access services only available to people simply wanting to shop in familiar places. Whilst we do our best to represent these voices through consultations, this inevitably creates a degree of emotional distancing for City of York Council as you do not get to hear directly the heartfelt stories that we hear.
Reducing traffic in the city centre and retaining accessibility are not in opposition. For example, York Civic Trust (York Press, 8th June 2021) 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.
The Council’s official line has been that these measures to extend the footstreets were temporary and put in place to “allow social distancing and to allow businesses to continue to operate during the pandemic” (Equalities Impact Assessment ongoing extension of the city centre footstreets (11th November 2020)). 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. In effect, the Council appears to have used the pandemic to create a sort of trojan horse to bring in permanent measures by stealth.
York is a Human Rights City and as such should be welcoming, and accessible, to all residents and visitors regardless of their identity or background. Recently the York Human Rights City Network released a statement concluding that a human rights approach has not been adopted in developing the current plans for the footstreets. They reaffirmed that “as a matter of legal obligation, the dignity and respect of disabled people, and the impact of the access policies on disabled people’s rights must be considered in any ‘balancing’ of needs; such an assessment needs to occur with the full involvement of disabled people.”
Further they made clear recommendations, including that City of York Council “acts in full compliance with its international and domestic legal obligations”. More specifically, that
- CYC should immediately freeze plans to make the current situation permanent through the Footstreet Scheme, pending an inclusive assessment – see (4).
- CYC should explicitly acknowledge that some city-centre Blue Badge parking will need to be reinstated to meet the needs of their disabled residents who cannot use alternatives.
- CYC should explicitly acknowledge the free labour DPOs have invested in gathering rich data around this topic, completing the relevant surveys, and attending multiple hours of consultation zoom meetings where they have already shared their data and recommendations.
- CYC should set up a working group, including DPOs as equal partners, to collectively assess the Footstreet Scheme and consider how to balance the rights of York’s disabled citizens with other considerations. YHRCN extends an offer to facilitate this working group to mitigate the tensions now surrounding this issue.
- We recommend that CYC take a human rights approach and use PANEL principles (Participation, Accountability, Non-Discrimination and Equality) to guide decision making now and in the future. This ensures that human rights are put at the centre of policy and practice.
We also refer you to our many previous statements – which you have seemingly ignored – and the results of consultations to learn more about our objections.
York Disability Rights Forum
York Accessibility Action
The York M.E. Community
York Access Hub
York Equal Access Campaign
York Labour Group of Councillors
and individuals to be named on the copy sent to the council