Cross-party MPs have attacked a council that has “locked out” disabled people from its city centre by installing security barriers to guard against terror attacks.
Labour and Conservative MPs criticised the discriminatory actions of York City Council, which is run by a Liberal Democrat-Green coalition.
The parliamentary debate took place just days before local elections take place across England, including in York, where engineering work to install the barriers began this week.
Tuesday’s debate was led by Rachael Maskell, the Labour MP for York Central, who said disabled people had been disabled by the new security barriers that will “prevent them using the blue badge access on which they depend”.
She said the council had applied for a traffic regulation order to install the barriers and went ahead with its plans despite more than 200 objections, and she told MPs that it was “clearly out of its depth”.
Maskell, who praised campaigners who have fought the ban, including disabled activist Flick Williams, said: “Disabled people are not terrorists, yet they are the ones being excluded.
“Imagine a sign saying ‘no disabled people’, yet that is what York has sunk to: denying dignity to the 60-plus people who every day depend on their blue badge to access the city.”
Disabled Labour MP Marsha de Cordova said that a council that was “seeking to ban disabled people from being able to access the centre of York amounts, pure and simple, to direct discrimination” and “a breach of their civil and human rights”.
Julian Sturdy, the Conservative MP for York Outer, said he supported Maskell’s comments.
He said she was “right to raise the point about the social isolation this is causing for people with disabilities who need access to our great city and its centre”.
But he also said there was “huge discrimination against rural communities”.
He said: “People from those communities with blue badges who need access to the city centre cannot access it at the moment because they do not have the required public transport.”
Even before the barriers are installed, disabled people with blue badges are already prevented from accessing the city centre.
Disabled people and allies have continued to protest that ban, which prevents vehicles, including those with blue badges, from entering York’s pedestrian “footstreets” zone from 10.30am to 5pm every day of the week.
Introduced initially by the council to create more space for pedestrians amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the exclusion zone was made permanent in 2021 to “create a safer and more attractive city centre and to reduce inner city pollution”.
Maskell called on the government to intervene and “reverse the ban in York”, and to provide funding and expertise to support York and other councils in similar situations.
And she pointed to another historic city, Chester, which has balanced “safety and access” and provided access to holders of blue badges at security barriers if they sign up to a scheme in advance.
She said: “Case law clarifies that public authorities must have due regard for the impact on elderly and disabled people when imposing parking restrictions. York fails that test.”
Lee Rowley, a junior levelling up, housing and communities minister, said: “Although councils are ultimately free to make their own decisions about the streets under their care, they need to take into account the relevant legislation.
“They are also responsible for ensuring that their actions are within the law.”
He added: “Personally, I would strongly encourage the city of York to think carefully about reconciling the understandable challenges with which it has to grapple, which we all recognise… with an approach that meets the rights of disabled people in the way [Maskell] outlined.
“There is always a balance to be struck between protecting the public and not unduly imposing on the rights and freedoms of disabled residents, blue badge holders or the wider public who need to park in the city for essential reasons.”
De Cordova said the council was “clearly breaching the law” and “does not even seem to be complying with its responsibilities under the public sector equality duty”.
She asked Rowley if the government could “intervene to instruct or encourage the council to reverse the ban”.
But he said it was “right that decisions are made locally”, although he added: “Nevertheless, I hope that the city of York is listening tonight, that it has heard the concerns and comments that have been articulated, and that it will consider very carefully how to approach the matter in future.”
Picture: Marsha de Cordova, Lee Rowley and Rachael Maskell
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