Footstreets Update

Yesterday night, there was a meeting that lasted over 4 1/2 hours. It was considering additional information which had been requested at the meetings on 25th October. Once the information had been considered, the councillors were asked to make recommendations to Executive. It is Executive who will be making the decision about the future of the footstreets on 18th November.

It was a long meeting and there were over 1000 pages of documents for the meeting but in the end, the majority voted to recommend to Executive that the footstreets are made permanent. 4 Lib Dem Councillors voted to make the footstreets permanent, 3 Labour Councillors voted against and the Green and Conservative Councillors had left before the vote.

You can watch the meeting on YouTube but we would really recommend you don’t. Unless you are a member of Executive and then we implore you to watch it.

Instead of watching it, we’ve got a summary (note, the links do take you to the recording of the meeting):

  • There was a common theme from the public speakers that a lack of attention had been paid to the Martin Higgit Associates (MHA) report and the extraordinary amount of material presented (approximately 1000 pages) late on a Friday only 3 days and only 1 working day, before the meeting.
  • Councillor Lomas began the discussion with a question around the how the recommendations fit with the equality law. This led to a discussion around the report from York Human Rights City Network. Cllr. Lomas made a number of strong points, notably about the social model of disability.
  • Cllr. Vaisie, supported by Cllr Baker, noted that the discussion was in the abstract, not trying to find solutions. Cllr. Vaisie Councillor Vaisie asked a question regarding solutions, noting the failure of the MHA report to make it into the recommendations. He also focused on a shuttle system as a solution.
  • Councillor Fenton asked about clarification on pavement café licenses and Hostile Vehicle Mitigations. This provoked a question about who has exemption, followed by a discussion about the order of removal of ALL vehicles from the centre.
  • The various reasons for the changes were discussed. The temporary measures were due to Covid, then pavement café’s but the removal of Blue Badge access was on the basis of Hostile Vehicle Measures, and would be followed, at some point “12-14” months in the future, by restrictions on all traffic.
  • The chair then raised the issue of cycle access.
  • Council Hollyer noted that his experience of listening to hours of information about the topic was sufficient to dismiss the impact on blue badge holders as “extremely unfortunate”.
  • Then there was the voting.

Within the 1000+ pages, there was a copy of the Martin Higgitt Associates report (Annex 6) which was probably the most useful of all the documents. It was the first time we had seen the report and whilst it’s focus was on the accessibility of the city centre, they also talked a lot about the footstreet changes, the impact they are having on Blue Badge holders and ways of moving forward. If you do read any of the reports, we’d suggest that particular one is at the top of your list.

There were a number of speeches from the public at the start including ourselves, York Accessibility Action, David Harbourne (chair of York CVS) and Jamie Wood. Ours and Jamie’s are below for you to read.

YDRF Statement

Audio version of the YDRF statement

I’m here speaking on behalf of York Disability Rights Forum.I’m here to urge you to recommend that the discriminatory footstreet extensions are not made permanent, and are, instead, removed. Decisions taken under emergency measures should not be used as a trojan horse to make them permanent. 

Scope states that 32% of people think disabled people are not as productive as non-disabled people and 13% hardly ever or never think of disabled people as the same as everyone else. I am horrified to live in a Human Rights city where those assumptions hit home every day.

York is, supposedly, a Human Rights City. As well as a UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts. The council talks of Age Friendly York, of Dementia Friendly York, of Autism Friendly York and now also of being an Anti-Racist and Inclusive City. How then, can York also be so blatantly discriminating against disabled people? These labels feel meaningless when we cannot get into our own city centre, cannot visit the shops we love, meet with friends and family or even get to a bank.

I would also implore you to get an Access Officer. Myself and other members of York Disability Rights Forum, and other disability groups across the city have given hundreds of hours of our time, to you, for free. To not feel listened to when we do so is devastating. Please don’t make this another of those times.

The report that came to the scrutiny meeting on 25th October clearly stated that ‘The information and issues included in this report demonstrates progress on achieving the priorities set out in the Council Plan’. I beg to differ. The council plan makes repeated use of the words fair and inclusive. It also talks about loneliness, isolation and tackling discrimination. When 78% of Blue Badge holders don’t agree that there is parking close enough because of the changes, it is clear that it is you the council who are creating loneliness and isolation, not tackling it. A report on your own website states the risks around loneliness including:

  • A lack of social connections can damage a person’s health as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day
  • Loneliness can increase the risk of developing disease and increase the risk of death by 29%

To allow the changes to be made permanent without access for the Blue Badge holders who need it, is essentially to have those deaths on your hands.

We have submitted the YHRCN’s human rights report on the blue badge exclusion as part of the ‘call to evidence’ for a UK shadow report on how the UK is meeting it’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This will provide an overview for the national and international community on how disabled people are being treated in York.

Jamie’s Statement

Thankyou for the opportunity to speak at this meeting. I am grateful to the democracy officer and chair for making this happen. As we heard last week Democracy is vital for the functioning of the council, so I know Neil Ferris the Corporate Director of Place will be as troubled as I am that almost 50 documents were presented to this committee after the deadline for public speakers to register. Why is this scrutiny happening at such a late stage over such an important issue?

The documents have too many discussion points in them for me to touch on in three minutes, so here are just a selection of points.

Firstly, a clarification. The information I requested via a previous FOI is contained in as Annex F and Y. Let me be clear, the officers have no evidence to support the assertion that restricted blue badge access to the city will significantly lower levels of traffic. As noted in the Martin Higgitt Associates (MHA) report (on page 12) there is “reasonably widespread abuse of these [existing] access arrangements” yet this is not mentioned. Officers present data which demonstrates that if access points are visibly monitored then traffic levels reduce, to which I am sure not a single York resident will be surprised at. In short there is no evidence to support that blue badge holders cannot simply be added to the Hostile Vehicle exemption list, along with fishmongers and some selective hotels.

The MHA report is outstanding, yet why did the officers commission a report from professional accessibility consultants, and then ignore the recommendations?

MHA present damning evidence regarding walking distances. MHA suggest 4 alternative arrangements for blue badge access, yet none are considered in the strategic report. All balance the needs to protect against Hostile vehicles yet facilitate legitimate access rights of those with a disability. I did not discover any serious attempt to consider these schemes, noting MHA’s prioritisation of reinstating blue badge access. Why have officers not presented their reasoning for NOT implementing MHA’s recommendations?

Not only does the strategic access report explicit suggest NOT reinstating blue badge access, directly contradicting the MHA report, it also explicitly suggests NOT permitting blue badge cycling, again in contradiction of MHA. The MHA is report is evidence led and entirely consistent with government guidance (notably Gear Change) and the council’s own published transport hierarchy, and yet, in the open brief officers state in point 28 state that cycling will not be permitted “…as a matter of principle”. Officers need to expand on what this principle is, who is responsible for it and why it overrides all other guidance and evidence.

As demonstrated in the public enquiry to the closure of Leeman Road City of York council was accused by the inspector of putting commercial interests above the access needs of residents and vulnerable people. I urge this scrutiny committee to not allow this damning accusation to become a proven reputation.

I strongly urge this committee to encourage officers to present “option 4” to the executive, namely “implement the recommendations of our externally appointed professional access and transport consultants in full”.

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