CHARITIES and organisations representing disabled people have made a last-ditch plea for an end to York’s controversial ban on blue badge parking in the city centre.

Ahead of a council executive meeting on Thursday which is expected to make the ban permanent, they have penned an emotional ‘open letter’ to the people of York, pleading for their support.

“People of York, Your elected members and employees of City of York Council are trying to exclude disabled people from the city centre,” begins the letter, published in full here

The letter adds: “The council should be working towards equality of opportunity between those of us who are disabled and those who are not. It is widening the gap, not closing it.

“Having a blue badge is not a perk: it’s essential for independence and inclusion...Under the law, it (the city council|) should be working to eliminate discrimination, yet it is instead actively discriminating against people with a blue badge.”

The council wants to permanently remove the exemption offered to blue badge holders which in the past allowed them to park in the city centre.

The exemption was temporarily suspended last year when foostreet areas were extended to allow for social distancing and pavement café licences during the pandemic. The council’s executive is now expected on Thursday to vote to make the foostreet extensions – and the ban on blue badge parking - permanent. It says the move will allow for the implementation of counter-terrorism measures aimed at reducing the danger of a ‘hostile vehicle’ attack.

A recent report from the York Human Rights City Network warned that the parking restrictions impacted blue badge holders’ ‘right to a private life ..and.. to non-discrimination’.

It urged the council to lift the restrictions – and said any final council decisions on city centre access should be put on hold until disabled people could be properly involved in drawing up an ‘accessibility plan’.

But a council report published earlier this month recommended that the blue badge parking ban in footstreet areas should be made permanent, and that footstreet hours should be extended generally until September 2022.

Disabled people say they are being ‘blatantly discriminated against’. Helen Jones of York Disability Rights Forum said: “Disabled people in York are being treated like second class citizens.

“We hear repeatedly that the council has a vision of a ‘city centre everyone wants to be part of’ and yet council decisions have excluded us from our city centre for 18 months.

“Whilst it is dependant on how the executive vote on Thursday, that exclusion looks like it will be made permanent. How, in 2021, can it possibly be the case that disabled people are being blatantly discriminated against?”

Prof Paul Gready, Director of the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York, added: “This is a defining moment for York. What kind of community do we want our city to be - inclusive, tolerant of difference and welcoming, or exclusive, intolerant of difference and hostile to certain communities?

“If the council pushes through a permanent extension to footstreets in the city centre, and knowingly discriminates against an already marginalised group, it will be a stain on this administration and the city. It is surely preferable to take the extra time needed to find a solution that works for all of York’s residents.”

The council issued a detailed statement this afternoon in response to the open letter.

It says: “The council has a duty to protect the lives of residents and visitors, particularly in the context of the increased terrorism threat level – with police advising that we should only allow emergency vehicles into the pedestrianised area of the city centre.

"A decision on the long term anti-terrorism measures would also mean that less intrusive security bollards would be installed in the city centre instead of the temporary barriers now in place for the festive season.

“We know this will have a significant impact on a group of blue badge holders, and for the last two years we have been actively engaging with disabled residents and groups to find a range of alternative measures.

“This engagement has led to the development of proposals which respond to the current challenges and would implement many of the recommendations put forward by external consultants. If approved, blue badge parking will return to Castlegate as it sits outside the area identified for counter-terrorism measures. It could also see significant investment in additional parking bays, improved pavements, more benches and facilities, employment of a new Access Officer role to lead on future access work, including exploring the potential for an electric shuttle bus.

 “We do understand that for some blue badge holders this does not replace the parking on St Helen’s Square and surrounding streets, but the proposals going to Executive reflect the extremely difficult balance the council has to find.”