Disabled campaigners and allies protested this week against “discriminatory” plans to move a taxi rank further away from platforms at Leeds railway station.
Hundreds of people have raised concerns about the plans, which even led to Leeds City Council paying a trio of barristers to defeat two legal claims of discrimination brought by some of its own access advisers.
Members of the Access Use Ability Group (AUAG) – which advises the council on access issues – are at the centre of the protests, as are members of the council’s Disability Hub.
AUAG’s members include representatives from organisations such as the local branch of National Federation of the Blind of the UK and the Access Committee for Leeds.
They have linked up with the union Unite, many of whose members are taxi-drivers affected by the plans.
The protest (pictured) saw disabled campaigners lobbying councillors at Leeds Civic Hall, before they and union activists made speeches attacking the proposals, which are due to be introduced in 2023.
Tim McSharry, an AUAG spokesperson, who spoke at the protest and was involved in bringing the legal action, said: “No local authority should spend public money on denying access to older and disabled people in any public development.
“We have tried for mediation, but the council have refused. The engagement has been an absolute shambles.
“It’s just too much of a case of discrimination. We can’t just let it go.
“There is no case we have come across in the past 20 years that has been such an open case of discrimination.
“We really feel there is a quick and easy solution. The existing rank needs one minor adjustment, which is easily achieved.”
He said AUAG had previously had a “very productive, constructive partnership” with the council until the taxi rank plans emerged at the start of last year.
AUAG was so concerned that it attempted to take action in Leeds County Court but its efforts were thrown out after the council employed three barristers to successfully argue that the case was too complicated to be dealt with in the small claims court.
Unite says the current taxi rank is 45 metres from the station entrance, while the proposed replacement is down steep steps or via a lift, which, if not working, would mean a 165-metre journey to reach the new rank.
In evidence submitted last year to the council by AUAG and local disabled-led groups, one guide dog-user said: “When I found out that the Leeds Station rank was to be moved away from its easy access only seconds away from the exit, I was shocked, but when I was told the rank was moving onto a different road level and would need a lift, I cried, because travelling is such a stressful task and rather than designers making it easy, they’ve just made it impossible.”
She added: “Whoever thought of this in Leeds City Council did not think of my needs as an older disabled blind person and have put massive barriers in the way of my participation and right to travel independently.”
Unite regional officer Darren Rushworth said the plans would put “intolerable obstacles” in the way of disabled and older people, who will find the new rank nearly four times as far away from the platforms.
He said: “This is supposedly happening to make passenger movements easier and to cope with modelled increases in passenger numbers, but the Office of Rail and Road has already shown that the throughput is down by 12 per cent for Leeds station in 2020 and that it did not anticipate the same levels of passenger movements in future with people’s changing habits to work and travel.
“Unite and a wide range of disability organisations want the status quo to continue and for people actually running this development to listen rather than dismissing our legitimate arguments, most of which have been outlined to the local council many times.”
A spokesperson for Leeds City Council (LCC) said: “The proposals are to make New Station Street pedestrian-friendly, safer and traffic-free.
“As part of this, LCC, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Network Rail developed proposals and LCC gained planning permission to relocate the taxi-rank to Bishopgate Street.
“The proposed move means that people will no longer have to cross a busy road to access the taxi rank, and with the number of people using Leeds Station expected to rise significantly over the coming years it will also make it easier for people to travel to and from the station using what is already a very busy street.
“Throughout this we’ve worked with representatives from disabled access groups across the city to discuss the proposals and helped shape the design to address their needs.
“This includes Network Rail’s built environment accessibility panel, an independent group of experts who were in support of the proposals to relocate the taxi rank to Bishopgate.
“At the request of Leeds City Council’s access and useability group (AUAG), we explored alternative options for the location of the taxi rank but unfortunately these were not feasible.
“We will continue to consider any proposals or suggestions to enhance the design further, as we finalise our scheme.”
The council confirmed that the claims brought against the council for disability discrimination were dismissed at Leeds County Court in March 2021.
Picture by Vasim Akhtar, chair of Leeds branch of Unite
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