Disabled access to Footstreets in York

Background

Footstreets

Footstreets (closed to traffic for most of the day) have been part of York city centre for over 40 years, and in that time they have been adjusted several times, including in 2020 following the first Covid lockdown. They are very popular, so much so that there are competing demands for space on the narrow streets where blue badge driver parking was previously allowed. 

Covid19

With Covid 19 and the need for increased personal space, the council removed vehicle access to certain streets (during the footstreet hours) where blue badge parking had previously been allowed. This was done at short notice, with the opening up of the city centre following lock down as the council responded to government emergency rule changes which saw over 100 cafes across York extending onto the pavement.  In some cases this was only possible because a street was added to the footstreets (eg Castlegate).

Terrorism

Both the council and the police have a duty under human rights legislation to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable terrorist attacks. In the past week the council has once again installed large temporary barriers to protect the whole area for the duration of the Christmas Markets.  

Following police advice in 2018, the council began to consult with disability groups and others on introducing permanent measures to control vehicle access. At that time it was planned to do this in two stages, the second stage being encompassing the whole of the pedestrianised area (including the two routes along which blue badge parking had previously been allowed).   

High profile terrorist attacks in recent years have increasingly used vehicles as a weapon, driving into crowds of people particularly at readily identifiable events and locations. 

The police say that the only way that we can minimise the risk of a serious terrorist incident in York is to completely close the footstreets to all traffic at times when there are significant numbers of people there. 

This video shows some of the advice given by the police to support the decision 

Decision

Consultation

There has been extensive consultation with a very wide variety of groups including disabled groups, cyclists groups, pedestrian groups, businesses and couriers and residents across York. This has included surveys and on the ground consultations with representatives of organisations. All this work fed into the recommendations and decisions taken this week. 

The decision

On Thursday 18 November 2021 City of York Council’s Executive unanimously agreed to follow the advice of the police to make permanent the current arrangement that excludes blue badge vehicle access during the restricted hours. The current hours of operation 10:30 to 20:00 will continue until the end of the year for the Christmas Markets, and then reduce to 10:30-19:00 which will be the recommended permanent hours beyond Sept 2022.

These decisions now allow for ordering and installing the permanent protective measures in time for Christmas 2022 and also the formal process of consulting on the hours of operation which officers are recommending as 10.30am – 7pm. In an amendment to the recommendation proposed by Green Executive Member for Transport Andy D’Agorne the Executive also agreed to an urgent review of all other exemptions so to allow for removal of existing rights for Post Office vans, bullion vans, taxis going to certain hotels etc to use these two routes during footstreet hours.  

Mitigations

The council has agreed to a number of measures to reduce the impact of the closures on disabled users of the city centre, including

  • Funding for Shopmobility and Dial a Ride including new vehicles and develop an electric shuttle bus service
  • New blue badge parking bays
  • Improved access around cafe seating eg with dropped kerbs to make getting around them easier,
  • Improve the quality of access from the closest car parks to the city centre,
  • Increase the number of benches so people can rest,
  • Appoint an Access Officer to work with disabled groups and advise the council on improving accessibility across the city.

For the full list see further information below.

Our view

Some of you will have seen press reports and social media posts stating that a recent decision taken by Lib Dem and Green Party councillors about safety measures in York’s Footstreets would have a negative impact on people with disabilities. 

This was clearly a very difficult decision for our councillors as part of a joint administration, with the need to balance everyone’s safety with the needs of some disabled people.

We believe that our councillors have adopted the least worst solution available to them. Or in other words, all the other options were worse than the chosen option.

The police advised the council that in order to reduce the risk from a terrorist attack and protect people from harm in the event of one, certain streets in the footstreets area of York would have to be closed to all but emergency vehicles. The safety of our citizens and visitors is paramount, and therefore the council has to take the advice of the police on this very seriously.

We understand this removes access for Blue Badge from those streets and therefore we urged the council to consult with disability groups from the very start of this process. After two years of discussing alternative arrangements with disabled people and groups including blue badge holders, the least worst option was decided on.

With pressure from Green councillors, the council is seeking to put in place measures to improve accessibility across York, including proposals to reintroduce blue badge access on Castlegate, the creation of new blue badge parking bays in the city centre, and improvements to public realm such as dropped kerbs and access routes which are designed in collaboration with disability groups.

The decision has been made to recruit an Access Officer and Green councillors are urging the council to  engage with disabled groups in the recruitment process for this, including in drawing up the job description and participating in the appointment process.

We expect the access officer to regularly review how the blue badge parking and other measures to improve accessibility are working and propose measures to improve these.


Further information

There were over 1400 pages of documentation behind the decision:

You can watch the full video of the decision session where the meeting was held 

Full list of mitigations

Further actions to improve disability access overall and compensate as far as possible for the loss of vehicle access to the central pedestrianised streets include:

•   Appointment of an Access Officer who will set up and support an Access Forum as well as working with others to implement the Action Plan.

•   Implementing additional blue badge parking around the edges of the footstreets area, including the provision of locations with quite a number of spaces together to improve availability. Continue exploring options for additional locations for bays.

•   Removing one smaller street on the edge of the area (Castlegate) from its proposed inclusion as a new part of the footstreets, meaning it will become available after the temporary measures finish (Sept 2022) for blue badge parking providing closer access on that side of the central area.

•   £250k to fund disabled access routes from the edge of centre car parks (note whilst this doesn’t meet everyone’s needs it is very helpful for many and came from disability groups as an ask – this work to be co-designed with disability groups.

•   Funding for works to generally improve public realm in the city – dropped kerbs, paving and seating at regular intervals.

•   Work with disability groups to produce a York Standard for streets and public realm in the context of access and disability.

•   Progressing work to co-design with disability groups and trial a city centre shuttle that would take people from edge of the pedestrian area to locations in the footstreets

•   A renewed contract to support Dial-a Ride (£100k+) and funding for new minibuses.

•   Explore the possibilities with Tier (e-scooter and e-bikes scheme) to add mobility aids/scooters to their offer from locations around the city centre/adjacent to blue badge parking.

•   Continue exploring the option for cycles as a mobility aid to be allowed in the pedestrianised footstreets.

•   Improved information and access to disabled toilets both council and private.

•   Improve information and awareness of blue badge parking and services.

•   Work with the Quality Bus Partnership and disability groups to improve the experience of public transport for disabled people – the largest single means of access to the city centre for disabled people.

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