York pavement cafes cause access issues for disabled people

York cannot have pavement cafes in every part of its historic city center without impacting on disabled people, the council has admitted.

The authority has said pavement cafe licenses, which the government introduced due to the pandemic, will remain a fixture in the city center but new guidances on how they should operate is needed.

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In the meantime, plans to extend the footstreet hours – when cars are banned in much of the city center – to 7pm each day are to be abandoned.

The pedestrian zone will revert to its previous hours of 10.30am to 5pm.

Tensions between the council, disability advocacy groups and businesses have risen in recent months, exacerbated by the decision to ban blue badge holders from the footstreets.

Pavement cafe licenses were seen as a way to help businesses cope with Covid, but since restrictions have eased, questions have been raised about how much space they take up in York’s narrow streets.

Disabled people say pavement cafes, of which there are now 115 in York, make accessing the city center more difficult – forcing them into the road to avoid tables and chairs.

York’s pavement cafes can cause access issues for disabled people Picture: Mike Laycock

A report set to go before senior councillors next week states: “The current historic infrastructure in the city center is not ready to accommodate pavement cafes in every location, especially on the pavement, without some impact on access or additional appropriate mitigations.

“It is recognized that reverting to normal footstreet hours will impact on businesses within the city centre, particularly those with pavement cafes.”

The current pavement license legislation expires in September and the council said it was unclear whether the government would extend emergency powers to award licenses without planning permission in October.

The report added: “Whilst it is likely pavement cafes are here to stay in some form in the future, this is no longer as part of an emergency response.

“Therefore, a review is necessary of the guidance and conditions on when cafes are acceptable, recognising and limiting the impact they have on access.”

Cllr Ashley Mason, executive member for economy and strategic planning, said: “We remain committed to the long-term vision of the city centre, with outdoor cafe culture playing a part in the success of our economy, but the current city center infrastructure is not yet ready for this vision to become a reality.

“As we enter the post-covid period we must revaluate and take away the lessons learned to support the city center and businesses in the long term.”

Disability rights campaigner Flick Williams said she was not impressed with the council’s offer of a review.

“Regretably the council’s record of consultation is not one of meaningful co-production rather a tick box exercise followed by doing what they were going to do anyway,” she added.

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“Disabled people don’t need a consultation on cafe licensing they need the council to follow the law and not issue licenses where access is obstructed.”

The report also revealed that a procurement exercise for the city’s new hostile vehicle mitigation measures – including bollards around the footstreets – is still not complete.

Temporary measures may again be required during the Christmas market, at a cost of £80k.

The council is also set to undertake a feasibility study on a city center shuttle bus service to mitigate the impact of the blue badge ban after requests from Cllr Christian Vassie.

The council’s executive will discuss the report on Thursday, July 28.

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