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Council fails to consider impact of pedestrian zones on blue badge holders

Controversial  extensions to York  pedestrian zones introduced at the end of June under emergency Covid legislation which have left Blue Badge holders feeling excluded from the city centre will almost certainly not be reversed next month.

The measures, introduced at short notice to increase space on city centre streets, are due to be reviewed at a meeting of City of York Council’s executive next month. The results of a consultation with hundreds of York people, many of them Blue Badge holders, was published on the council’s website . But in an exclusive interview with The Press, the authority’s transport boss Cllr Andy D’Agorne has revealed that there is very unlikely to be a U-turn on the footstreet restrictions. Instead, the focus is likely to be on identifying other measures to help Blue Badge holders access the city centre.

Here, we look at the issues…

What were the measures introduced in June?

Using emergency Covid legislation, existing pedestrian zones in the city centre were extended and manned checkpoints were set up to stop drivers (including disabled drivers) entering Goodramgate, Blake Street, Lendal, St Helen’s Square and, later, Castlegate. A ‘loading ban’ was also introduced on Deangate. The aim was to allow for more social distancing and to enable struggling businesses to set up street cafés. A tepee was put up on College Green with tables for use by customers, and the extra space meant that some businesses on Goodramgate and elsewhere were also able to set up pavement tables.

“Pedestrianised streets have been central to safe social distancing,” a report on the council’s Blue Badge city centre consultation published yesterday says. “The strategy has helped York’s economic recovery. The extra space has given most people confidence to return to live, work and play in the city centre – 73 businesses have taken advantage of pavement café licences, with all but 15 of these lasting until next spring.”

One of the problems, however, was that there was very little notice given of the changes. Letters were sent to 7,500 Blue Badge holders in the city, but the new restrictions were in place almost as soon as they received them.

Why were the measures introduced so suddenly?

Cllr D’Agorne says that, in June, as lockdown restrictions began to ease, the Government was keen that local authorities should do all they could to make city streets safe for returning visitors. Councils were given about three weeks notice that ‘non-essential’ shops and cafés would be re-opening, and were instructed to take steps to prepare for this – including by extending pedestrian zones. It was partly about increasing space for pedestrians in city centre areas, so as to allow for social distancing and safe queueing outside shops, and partly about allowing cafés, restaurants and bars to set up tables outside. It all happened very quickly, Cllr D’Agorne says – hence the ’emergency legislation’.

Why were Blue Badge holders upset?

The measures meant that many Blue Badge holders, who by definition cannot walk far, were no longer able to visit the city centre because they could not park close enough. They were left feeling marginalised and excluded.

One, 97-year-old Bill Heppell, wrote to The Press to say he could no longer get to the St Sampsons Centre, which he had been visiting for years. “I cannot use my blue badge to park in Goodramgate or anywhere within walking distance of St Sampsons, and will not be the only former visitor unable to visit,” he said.

Another, A Bevan, wrote to the newspaper to say that disabled people were being victimised and prevented from visiting the city centre. “My husband and I would love to be able to do our shopping in the city centre as we have done for years,” she wrote. “But with these restrictions in place we will have to do what so many of us are doing and shop where disabled people are catered for and not discriminated against – which is out of town, causing more pollution.”

Helen Jones of York Disability Rights Forum accused the council of ‘patronising’ people with disabilities. “These fairly significant changes were communicated after they had been made and the information within the leaflet that we received was already out of date when we received it,” she said. “The way the council has behaved has shown a considerable lack of understanding about disability.”

York mum Alison Hume, whose 21-year-old son Edward Mitten has Pallister-Killian mosaic syndrome and autism, launched an online petition to protest against the restrictions. That petition has now been signed by almost 1,100 people.

Told that the extended pedestrian zones were unlikely to be scrapped, Alison said: “A lot of people are very angry about this. We are all equal, but the council has chosen to forget about this because the disabled community is small.” She added that if the authority did not change its mind, she would consider a legal challenge. “I will see if they are breaking the law in terms of their duties under the Equality Act,” she said.

Are all disabled people opposed to the measures?

No. The council says that in fact 61 per cent of disabled people who responded to its consultation supoported extending the footstreets – as did 67 per cent of all other respondents. Many blind and partially-sighted people, for example, approve of the extended pedestrian zones. They say they make walking through town ‘much easier’ and mean they do not have to worry about traffic. “We consulted with our membership and on the whole, the widening is a welcomed addition from a safety and social distancing perspective,” said Scott Jobson of charity MySight York. MySight members’ main criticism was that they would like to see ground-level ‘barriers’ placed around pavement cafés plus signs and bollards.

What measures did the council put in place to help Blue Badge holders struggling to get into the city centre?

Forty extra disabled parking spaces were created at Monk Bar car park, and a free taxi shuttle service for Blue Badge holders running from the car park to St Andrewgate was introduced.

But disability groups criticise the service for being too inflexible – and say it is of limited use, because many people with disabilities find it difficult to transfer from their own car to a taxi.

Alison Hume said the Monk Bar car park was too far away from the city centre for people with mobility problems. “And the council is patronising the disabled community by saying ‘you will all park here, you will all get these taxis, and will all be dropped off in this place’,” she said.

The council accepts that the taxi shuttle has limitations. “The use of the shuttle taxi service has grown, with 947 single shuttle journeys complete by September 30,” the report on the Blue Badge consultation published yesterday says. “It is particularly appreciated by a core group of around 20 regulars. However, only nine per cent of the targeted survey respondents believe it is a useful service. The single drop-off and collection point limits its usefulness for many.”

What extra ‘mitigation measures’ might be included?

Additional free taxi drop off points at each side of the city centre are being considered. The council is also considering shortening the period of the traffic restrictions: at the moment, traffic is restricted in pedestrian zones from 10.30am to 8pm. At some point, it might be possible to change this to 5pm, says Cllr D’Agorne.

In addition, an independent review of disabled access in York city centre carried out for the council by Disabled Motoring UK (DMUK) has suggested a number of further measures. These include:

  • a ring of Blue Badge ‘parking hubs’ as close to the edge of pedestrianised zones as possible
  • a closer working relationship with Shopmobility and dial-and-ride
  • appointing an Access Officer to liaise with disabled groups
    an audit of accessible local public transport

DMUK also recommends introducing a ‘concessionary charge’ for Blue Badge holders using council car parks. The council is not thought to be considering this.

What will happen next?

The council’s executive meets next month to review the measures and to discuss possible additional support for Blue Badge holders. But Cllr D’Agorne says that even once Covid has passed, the need for increased anti-terror security means it is probably unlikely that the newly-extended pedestrian zones and traffic restrictions will be scrapped. In future, he says, it is possible that the manned checkpoints will be replaced by sliding barriers operated from a central control room in West offices.




Article originally appeared on The York Press

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