HELEN JONES of York Disability Rights Forum, explains why Blue Badge holders are left feeling excluded from their own city by the council’s drive to pedestrianise

City of York Council seems determined to press ahead with plans to permanently ban blue badge holders from accessing the city centre during the day.

The authority expanded the city centre pedestrian zone and hours at the start of the Covid pandemic.

Blue badge holders used to be allowed to drive in certain pedestrianised streets - but the council banned access during the day, allowing bollards and barriers to be installed. It is now planning to make a traffic regulation order to make this permanent.

The council does plan to increase blue badge parking on the edges of the foostreet zones - including, for example, extra spaces in Blake Street, Deangate, Duncombe Place, Lord Mayor’s Walk, St Leonard’s Place and Stonebow. These, however, will simply replace spaces lost to blue badge holders in July 2020. 

The council will soon be advertising its proposals - and says residents will be able to have their say.

It is important that we do. Disabled people have already faced almost a year of not being able to access the city centre. A change to permanently exclude us from being able to park in the city centre - and so effectively prevent us from being able to visit our wonderful city - is something we have long worried was coming.

The council declared a Climate Emergency in March 2019 and set a target of being carbon neutral by 2030. This is ambitious and clearly requires a variety of measures, one of which was having a car-free city centre by 2023. 

While this would help to reduce York’s high pollution levels, a clearly positive goal, the desire for environmental improvement cannot come at the cost of disabled people’s access. 

It is admirable that the council is invested in making the city greener. But there needs to be an understanding that unless changes are enacted carefully and thoughtfully, there is a very real possibility that climate change mitigations will discriminate against disabled people.

York Press:

Open for business - but not if you’re a disabled person, says Helen Jones

As part of the push towards a carbon neutral York, people are encouraged to walk, cycle, use public transport, choose electric vehicles and join car share schemes. Not all of these are accessible options, and some aren't accessible enough yet, for example, the main bus stops for the hospital are a fair walk from the entrance. This means anyone who has difficulty walking, this means the bus is not an option for hospital appointments.

As well as carefully auditing bus stop locations, we need to look at the buses themselves. Once in York, buses are the main public transport and there needs to be investment in making them fully accessible. Right now, so called accessible buses, often require the goodwill of a driver, the cooperation of other passengers and can still be difficult. As a wheelchair user, I have to cross my fingers and hope the space is free, that the ramp works and that other passengers don't give me abuse whilst I struggle into the poorly positioned wheelchair space. The latter being even more difficult on a packed bus, a time when people tend to be more stressed.

As soon as the human element is required, our independence decreases and the quality of our journeys depends entirely on goodwill. There are the great drivers who help you on and off the bus with a smile, but there are also those who huff and puff and grumble, making you feel like a nuisance for daring to get on the bus.

York Press:

'If we need other people to help us access public transport, our independence decreases', says Helen Jones

Even with the most amazing, fully accessible public transport system, some disabled people will still need to be able to drive into the city centre. This means that closing it to all cars will completely push some disabled people out of the centre, creating a segregated city with the city centre effectively turning into a no go area for us. 

York Disability Rights Forum already know that a lot of disabled people are having to shop out of town, either going to places like Monks Cross or even to other local towns, because of the current changes to the footstreets. Non disabled people often tell us that we can access shops and services elsewhere, so it doesn't matter that we can't enter the city centre. But we have the right to go into the city we live, work and pay taxes in.

As we are thinking about this from an environmental angle, I wonder how much closing the city centre to disabled people risks increasing pollution. Disabled people who are now having to drive to Easingwold or out of town shopping centres will be creating higher emissions than if they were able to drive and park in York. It also means disabled people, and often their family, are not supporting local businesses at a time when it is so desperately needed. 

Another suggestion we hear is that we can go online and shop, an option only available for people who are digitally connected. Further, this tends to mean products are shipped from depots that are further away, possibly even overseas, and aren't supporting local businesses.

The council has made a commitment to work with disabled people and Blue Badge holders to ensure access to the city centre remains, in some form. However, unless this involves reinstating city centre access for Blue Badge holders, it will result in an inaccessible city centre for some disabled people.

It is important to understand that low car, not no car, can be a way to reduce pollution and carbon emissions whilst also ensuring disabled people can access the city centre. 

To contact York Disability Rights Forum, email yorkdisabilityrights@gmail.com, write to YDRF c/o Centre for Applied Human Rights, York, YO10 5ZF or leave us a voicemail: 01904 326781.

‘We’re working to improve disabled access across the city centre’
We invited City of York Council to respond to Helen Jones. This is what the authority had to say:
“Last week’s decision to begin the formal consultation to remove blue badge exemptions to a number of streets in the city centre and thereby expand the car free area during footstreet hours is part of a much bigger, complex picture.

We’re trying to balance the access needs of all York’s residents, protect jobs, support businesses, and keep everyone in our city centre safe. 

Last years’ temporary extension to the footstreets allowed the city to reopen safely, with space for social distancing in our busiest streets. 

As the pandemic response required immediate action, we were unable to carry out an extensive engagement process. The engagement that took place later revealed a diverse range of views within York’s disabled residents. Findings are available at www.york.gov.uk/OBCAccess . 

Most respondents acknowledged the benefits of the footstreets. Tangible benefits of vehicle-free streets are also felt by many older residents, those with sight loss and those with mobility aids. 

However, the engagement also revealed the effect on those who previously used blue badges to park in the affected streets. In response, we restored blue badge access and parking in Deangate and introduced several new bays on the very edge of the footstreets.  

We encourage people to contribute to the consultation, which will be launched shortly. 

As well as developing the proposal and statutory consultation for these small number of streets, we’re also working on improving disabled access across the whole city centre.

We’ve spent two months engaging with diverse groups, including disabled residents, businesses, taxi drivers, cyclists and couriers.

The outcome of this wider review will be considered by the Executive in September and will ensure a range of improvements so disabled people can access the whole city centre based on their individual needs."

York Press:

The council is promising more blue badge parking spaces on the edge of the city centre