Image Credit: Annie Watson
Members of York Accessibility Action have appealed in a written letter to the Department for Transport asking the government to intervene in order to improve access for disabled individuals to York’s city centre. The group says that they are concerned that the City of York Council has inhibited disabled access through measures that were introduced in line with the Government’s coronavirus guidelines.
For example, the Council has widened pedestrian zones and increased the hours in which streets are closed to traffic to 10:30 to 8pm daily in order to allow for social distancing. The Council has said that these moves create space for social distancing, as well as for queues outside of businesses and al fresco seating. At the same time, the Council has also removed the exemption that allowed blue badge holders to drive down certain streets that are normally restricted.
However, the Council created more blue badge parking bays on the edge of the city centre, and has begun a consultation on access for blue badge holders. Campaigners told the York Press that the changes have caused “heartache and frustration” for many disabled residents. They claim that many are now travelling further afield to cities like Harrogate to use vital services like the dentist, bank and Post Office. The additional travel time on top of work commitments mean that some disabled individuals cannot reach these services during opening hours.
The Council has stated that Fossgate will reopen to traffic in September, but that they are planning to keep the rest of the newly pedestrianised areas closed to traffic. A spokesperson for the Department for Transport told YorkMix that: “Well-designed cycling and walking schemes can bring environmental and health benefits for everyone, but it is essential that proper consultation is undertaken with local stakeholders before they are introduced.”
The #ClosedToUs campaign to re-open York city centre to disabled people began in September 2020 with a petition started by Alison Hume. The petition protests the ‘sudden closure of York city centre to Blue badge holders and to taxis transporting customers with visible and invisible disabilities and impairments’.
The petition goes on to say that ‘Despite the diverse multitude of visible and hidden disabilities, the Council has chosen to impose a rigid “one size fits all” solution that ignores individual, personal circumstances and needs’.
Neil Ferris from York City Council told York Press: “The changes to the city centre foot streets were not taken lightly, and have allowed the city centre to reopen safely following government guidance to support safe reopening of hospitality businesses last summer.”
“These are currently temporary solutions whilst we consider the permanent measures the city centre needs.We’ll be happy to discuss our response to these challenges – which are being felt by cities across the country – with the Transport Secretary".