Voices: Dame Judi is right, our historic cities should be accessible for all

The Shambles, York's most famous street
The Shambles, York's most famous street

Watch out City of York Council: you’ve got Dame Judi Dench to contend with.

Local campaigners must be a pain in the neck for you. If only they’d quietly accept your discriminatory plan to remove blue badge parking and shut down the historic centre to large numbers of the disabled.

But they haven’t done that. They’ve made the parking cuts – supposedly required to make way for anti-terror bollards – into a national issue. I’ve repeatedly raised the subject, alongside similarly outrageous policies enacted or threatened by Hackney, Redbridge, Waltham Forest, Brighton. (Yes, Brighton - try finding an accessible loo in Britain’s supposed centre of inclusion).

Oscar and Bafta winner Dame Judi, who is not just a national treasure but one of York’s finest exports, has played ‘M’ so she knows James Bond. Not that she needs his help. She’s a formidable character and she’s played plenty. We could use more supporters like her because people tend to pay attention to what she says.

Life as a disabled Briton can be summed up in one word: Arrgghh! It’s what I was left thinking on my way back from the House of Lords, where I’d interviewed Baroness Campbell – another formidable woman, and founder of Not Dead Yet UK which opposes assisted suicide.

I had hit the inevitable bump in the road upon reaching Stratford station in a wheelchair. It has step-free access to the Central line going west, but not east. You need a ramp if you’re going east which means you have to find a member of staff with a radio who’s not surrounded by a gaggle of other passengers, and they have to find someone to operate the ramp. But at least you usually get there in the end.

York’s disabled community and its disabled visitors can’t get there at all when it comes to its beautiful city centre. I’ve been there and witnessed the problem close-up.

Terrorism is the mealy-mouthed excuse that has been given. Police were apparently worried about fanatics driving vehicles into crowded places, so goodbye blue badge parking spaces.

Here’s the thing: if you’re shutting out disabled people for fear that a fanatic might do something horrible then the terrorists have won. Severing disabled people’s access to York is a craven surrender to them. An act of despicable cowardice.

Dame Judi summed it up perfectly in a message shared with campaign group Reverse the Ban. “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,” she said.

“As someone living with sight loss, I know only too well how gaining access to places can be exceptionally difficult.

“York city centre should be fully accessible through these types of schemes. I should like to offer my wholehearted support to people in the City of York who are asking the local council to reconsider any ban to the blue badge scheme in the city centre.”

Policies such as the one imposed by York are depressingly common in a country where the attitude of the entire political class is ‘why should we care about a bunch of cripples?’. It’s high time they were made to care. Perhaps a few more supporters like Dame Judi would care to step up?