York’s Liberal Democrat councillors have told the council’s new Labour administration it must be guided by advice from Police and counter-terrorism experts in their current review of controversial city centre access arrangements.
The Lib Dems say that “The current council consultation on city centre access asks residents to agree or disagree with the statement that “In light of any security risk intelligence, the police will have power to lock down all access to the city centre under an Anti-Terrorism Traffic Regulation Order (ATTRO), a counter-terrorism measure under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.”
Lib Dem Group Leader Nigel Ayre has queried the purpose of the inclusion of this statement in the consultation.
He said “It is not at all clear what residents are being asked to comment on here – are they being invited to say that the Police shouldn’t have these powers and that the legislation should be overturned?
“Or are they being asked whether the powers should exist but that the Police should be prevented from using them?
“The ‘consultation’ suggests that the existence of powers to help keep us all safe from the threat of terrorism are somehow up for debate, which is really quite worrying.
“I have therefore written to the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police to seek clarification on what the current advice is in relation to protecting areas of busy foot fall, such as York city centre.”
The council’s consultation has attracted broad criticism from opposition councillors, MPs and disability rights campaigners about the way in which the ‘questions’ have been posed.
Also a few days after its launch, the questionnaire was pulled and an amended version was published, but with no indication as to what had changed from the previous version. Following investigation from Liberal Democrat councillors, the Executive Member confirmed that her original consultation was ableist.
Cllr Ayre has re-stated the Lib Dem group’s commitment to keeping city centre access arrangements under review. The policy, put in place when they were in power also produced a storm of protest.
But Councillor Ayre said: “No council administration imposes access restrictions for no reason, and this often involves very difficult decisions which balance the requirement to keep the public safe with retaining vehicular access through busy city centres.
“That’s why in our local election manifesto the Lib Dems committed to keep the operation of city centre access arrangements under review once the hostile vehicle measures recommended by the Police and Terrorism experts had been installed, ensuring most up to date Police advice is followed and all alternatives and mitigations are explored.
“Slashing vital ward funding to spend £30k on a flawed consultation such as this is a step backwards from the commitments we had already made.
“This is an issue that should be beyond party politics, and so it was disappointing that both Labour and the Conservatives turned it into a political football in the run-up to the local elections in May.
“I hope that, going forward, discussions on this important issue can take place in a more considered manner.”
Labour Executive Member for Transport, Cllr Pete Kilbane said in reply:
“Even after the issue contributed to the old administration losing power of York Council, York Liberal Democrat Party continues to try to find excuses for banning disabled blue badge holders from the city centre.
“They also continue to try to peddle the myth that this was a Police decision, even after the Police confirmed it was the council’s decision alone to take.
“While they continue digging themselves a deeper hole, we are making progress on reversing the ban in the coming months, following a full public consultation, and returning access to the city centre for blue badge holders once again”.