The closure of a road by a council has left a disabled woman imprisoned in her home and unable to attend vital health appointments, in the latest example of pedestrian-friendly policies that are failing to take access needs into account.
Ann Ingle believes Brighton and Hove City Council is discriminating against her and breaching her right to respect for her home and private life under the Human Rights Act.
The council* claims its actions are “proportionate”.
She has lodged a formal complaint about the council’s actions.
For more than 15 years, she has lived in Gardner Street, in the heart of Brighton’s popular shopping and restaurant quarter.
She is unable to use a wheelchair because of a complex series of chronic health conditions, and so needs a car to be able to park directly outside her flat to be able to leave her home.
But a traffic regulation order introduced in January means vehicles are only allowed in the road before 11am and after 5pm every day of the year.
Ingle says Brighton and Hove City Council has so far declined to make reasonable adjustments for her, and as a result she has already had to delay important health appointments.
She told Disability News Service (DNS): “I’ve been left stranded. I just don’t know what I am going to do about this.
“This is such a weird situation to find myself in, and everyday things regarding the care of my health, everything people expect to be able to do such as getting to preventative treatments, scans and assessments, have just stopped.
“I’ve always been responsible for my health and this stops me from doing so.
“The bits of life around finding new pals, seeing new things, being creative, all the things that make my brain, body and emotions work well, they have all been shown the door.
“Because I cannot use wheelchairs like the council expect me to, my world is even smaller than it was.
“It’s a disability issue, it’s about how disabled people can be mobile and get to where we need to.
“It’s not about bikes versus cars or active travel. I feel absolutely battered by the whole thing.
“Why should everyone else be able to do all these things but I can’t? They are trying to make disabled people conform in ways that are not possible.
“There’s a lack of humanity in their decisions.”
She has previously told the council: “I am being placed in the unfavourable position where my place in the community is minimised and I am being made invisible.
“It deprives me of being as much part of this community as everyone else.”
She added: “Disabled people who need personal vehicles as a mobility aid are just as much part of the community as all other citizens. We need to be protected as such.”
The council first closed the road during the pandemic lockdown, but concerns arose about the impact of the closure on disabled people who needed to use the road’s two blue badge spaces.
Those spaces have now been permanently moved to a street about 100 metres away, which Ingle says “might as well be on the other side of the planet”.
She said: “To add insult to injury, the council removed the blue badge spaces completely, so even when the road is open my disability personal assistant can’t legally park up for me so I can use a vehicle.”
The council’s failure to consider her needs, and the removal of the blue badge spaces, she says, means she cannot leave her home at all as it is no longer legal to park outside for the time needed.
This means it is almost impossible to attend GP and hospital medical appointments, and also creates significant barriers in the rest of her life.
She is being supported by the Brighton disabled people’s organisation Possability People, which – alongside another local disabled people’s group, BADGE – submitted evidence and spoke about its concerns to the council.
They told the council that the discriminatory nature of its actions raised a question over its supposed wish to improve access for disabled people in the city, and that no attempt had been made to help Ann and any other disabled residents of Gardner Street.
They told the council: “There are 13,500 disabled people [in the council area] who are reliant on their vehicles or wheelchairs as mobility aids.
“By voting for this closure, you will be voting for a scheme which directly discriminates against these disabled residents, your constituents.”
The council has argued that it is “fully aware of the concerns” she has raised but that “having considered the competing considerations carefully” it decided that “to maintain vehicular access for blue badge holders, or indeed any vehicular exemption, would be incompatible with the objectives” of the traffic regulation orders it had imposed on Gardner Street.
It said the benefits of the orders would include improved access for pedestrians and disabled people, which justified their introduction despite the concerns.
It has also argued that the changes will improve air quality and safety.
Ingle argues that there was not much moving traffic on the road before the closure so it will make little difference to air quality.
Geraldine Des Moulins, chief executive of Possability People, told DNS: “After initial consultations, which Possability People were included in, we thought Brighton and Hove City Council understood the importance of Gardner Street remaining accessible, both for the community and for the disabled resident who lives there.
“We were shocked and dismayed to learn of their proposal to close vehicle access to the street for seven days a week, from 11am until 7pm.
“The impact of the closure has had a serious and devastating impact on the disabled resident who lives there which the council have just not acknowledged.
“They have a duty of care to make reasonable adjustments and they haven’t done this.
“We have repeatedly asked to meet with them to see if there is a way forward, other than opening the road at 5pm rather than 7pm, but they have not responded to our requests.
“We understand the benefits a reduction in car use brings, but the ill-thought-out manner in which the council seem to be doing this has raised concerns and fear amongst the disabled community that the city will become completely inaccessible to disabled visitors, and worse still, make disabled residents feel like prisoners in their own homes.”
A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesperson said: “Before agreeing the Gardner Street daytime closure, we considered the equalities implications and were aware that the changes may impact accessibility for some residents.
“As a result the times of the closure were reduced and additional disabled parking bays were installed in Regent Street.
“We are keenly aware of the impact the change has had on one disabled resident of Gardner Street.
“We currently support them in a number of ways. This includes support with leaving their home during the hours when the street is closed.
“We will be contacting the resident again to discuss any further concerns they may have.
“The changes have brought real improvements for people using the road – by creating a safe area to access shops and restaurants.
“We have received a number of positive comments about the closure, including from disabled people.
“As a council we recognise that more can be done to support disabled people better as they are disproportionately impacted.
“We continue to work to improve our approach to accessibility and also how we plan and consult for it.”
Ingle told DNS last night that she had no idea what the council was referring to when it described the support it provides for leaving her home during the hours when the street is closed.
She has not left her home since the road closure was introduced.
*Until last week’s local elections, the council was led by the Green party, although it only held 20 of 54 seats. Labour now has majority control of the council
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