Rachael Maskell MP speaking in the House of Commons
Rachael Maskell MP speaking in the House of Commons

Yesterday, York Central MP Rachael Maskell brought a debate to the House of Commons on City centre security measures and access for disabled people. Ms Maskell called for this debate following concerns that City of York Council are restricting the access of blue-badge holders to the city-centre’s pedestrianised streets, with the permanent installation of these measures having already begun this week.  

Introducing the debate Rachael Maskell highlighted the issues of inequality and discrimination experienced by disabled people across York, following the implementation of these measures by the current council Executive.

Campaigners across York have been calling for these restrictions to be reversed since their temporary implementation in June 2020, highlighting that many disabled people have been locked out of the city due to the decisions of the Council.

Speaking in the debate, the York MP said:  

“The centre of York is a special place. It is one that my community really values, with its amenities and services, its heritage, and its friendships. Imagine someone being told that they are no longer allowed entrance. Why? Because they are a disabled person. Disabled not by the debilitative impairment that they have learned to live with, but “dis-abled” because the new security barriers prevent them using the blue badge access on which they depend.” …

“We had these debates decades ago, resulting in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. We understand the social model of disability, which is about the barriers—in this case, literally barriers—that prevent people from living their life without detriment. People are now locked out of their city not because they have an impairment, but because of intransigence within the local authority.” …

 “I understand risk and I want my city to be safe for all who enter. Mitigation must be proportionate and effective. But let us be clear: disabled people are not terrorists, yet they are the ones being excluded.”

Ms Maskell continued by setting out the issues observed in the approach taken by the Council, including the lack of consultation with disabled residents. She also set out her alternative vision for what a new approach could look like, with consultation and co-production to find a solution which could ensure both the protection of York and its residents while preventing the discrimination of disabled residents across the city.  

In her speech, the York MP also expressed her thanks to the researchers and campaigners who have been calling for the reversal of this policy:  

“I am grateful to the world-leading Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York, which produced an outstanding report, and to the Reverse the Ban campaign to provide access to disabled people” …  

 “The embarrassment is that York became the UK’s first UNESCO human rights city in 2017. This year it holds the prestigious international chair for human rights cities.”  …

“I close with the words of Dame Judi Dench: “York city centre is a rare jewel that should be free for all to enjoy, including those with a disability and for whom accessible parking is essential… I should like to offer my wholehearted support to people in the City of York”. I ask the Minister to offer his support too.” 

During the debate, Government Minister Lee Rowley MP, the Minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, expressed his appreciation to the York MP, Rachael Maskell, for calling the debate on behalf of her constituents.  The Minister responded to the concerns raised by Rachael Maskell MP, and other members of Parliament participating in the debate.

In his response, he began by saying: “The fact that the subject had to be raised in this place tonight is indicative of the level of concern that has been expressed on both sides of the House about the challenges facing the city of York.” 

The Minister continued by setting out the responsibility of Local Authorities to take into account the relevant legislation, and ensure the rights and freedoms of disabled residents are not unduly imposed upon:  

 “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. They are accountable to local people for their decisions, and indeed for their performance. There is no specific requirement for local authorities to use bollards; it is for each council to decide the most appropriate way to resolve these challenges.” … 

“The blue badge scheme is a lifeline for many disabled people.” …

“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—the hon. Lady was careful to articulate and highlight them in her speech—with an approach that meets the rights of disabled people in the way she 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.” 

Closing his speech, Minister Rowley said: “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.” 

Speaking after the debate, Rachael Maskell MP said

“I was pleased to be able to bring this urgent debate to Parliament and am grateful to the Minister for his supportive comments, stating the Governments concern for the actions of the Council in York.  

“Disabled people must not be denied access to our city.

“The reality is that York has not committed to or engaged in a fair consultation, has not co-produced a solution with disabled people who are seriously impeded, and has failed to consider all options available. It is simply shameful. Blue Badge holders are locked out. The Council Executive should hang their heads in disgrace. A Labour Government and a Labour-led Council would not tolerate this and would reverse the ban.”  

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