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Campaigners welcome council’s U-turn on installing “discriminatory” barriers on cycling and walking routes

The barriers, which Stockport Council hoped would combat anti-social behaviour, were criticised for restricting access for disabled people

Stockport Council’s decision to backtrack on its plans to introduce more barriers on cycling and walking routes has been welcomed by campaigners, who said that the barriers would discriminate against disabled people who use non-standard cycles, wheelchairs, and mobility aids.

In February, reported that Stockport Council had launched a consultation on a draft ‘access control’ policy in the wake of new government guidance concerning the design of “high quality, safe cycling infrastructure”.

This draft policy included introducing measures such as chicanes, bollards, and barriers on some cycling routes to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Labour councillor Dean Fitzpatrick claimed at the time that the authority’s plans were about trying to “balance everything for the whole community”.

“I think in the way we have got unsafe, selfish, speeding, erratic car drivers, we also have the same with cyclists and we also have the same with people on scooters,” Fitzpatrick told Stockport Council in February.

However, the plans were heavily criticised by active travel campaigners who argued that the proposed barriers did not “meet the legal access requirements” and would prevent disabled people from using the routes.

> Disabled cyclist accuses Stockport Council of trying to “worm its way out” of making sure that all cycling and walking routes are accessible 

“The very basic bare minimum the council should be doing, they don’t reach that, which morally is pretty disgusting. There’s a minimum and the council is trying to worm their way out of it,” Harrie Larrington-Spencer, a researcher at the University of Salford who specialises in inclusive active travel, said in response to the policy.

The 31-year-old, who has reduced function in her left arm and hand after being hit by a motorist five years ago, noted that disabled people who use non-standard cycles and larger scooters would find it particularly difficult to negotiate the barriers, and claimed that the council had misunderstood the Equality Act by arguing for “balance” between the needs of disabled people and the fight against anti-social behaviour.

She said: “It’s not about balance. Disabled people have the right to access these spaces. You should be able to use the same walking and cycling routes that non-disabled people can use. You are limiting who can access these routes, which is terrible.”

Following this backlash, the council’s policy – which was signed off earlier this week – has been significantly altered so that “there will be a general presumption against the use of access controls on new or upgraded routes”, the Manchester Evening News reports. In other words, new or improved routes will be barrier-free.

Colin MacAlister, cabinet member for economy and regeneration, told a meeting of Stockport Council on Tuesday that ensuring disabled people could use “those very important routes” was at the forefront of the council’s proposals.

“There was a tendency to block a route to solve a problem and now we are not doing that,” he said. “We are trying to keep the accessibility open while still trying to address the problems that could have been associated with nuisance and people abusing a particular pathway and route.”

Another councillor, Mark Roberts, admitted that the council’s previous approach had disadvantaged disabled people while also failing to deter anti-social behaviour in the area.

The council’s U-turn has been praised by active travel group Walk Ride Stockport, which says it is “a welcome improvement on the original proposal”.

“We’re especially pleased to see that the default position will be for new or upgraded routes to be barrier-free, and that councillors acknowledge that measures against anti-social behaviour should not impede legitimate users,” a spokesperson said.

“Currently, barriers on Stockport’s walking and cycling network make it impossible for many users to travel in the borough. We look forward to working with the council in the coming months to identify the barriers most urgently in need of removal.”

> Cargo bike ‘photobomb’ in front of Liverpool team bus goes viral 

The news was also welcomed by Dr Larrington-Spencer – though the research fellow expressed concern that such a discriminatory approach to access was even considered by the council in the first place.

“I think that it’s great that SMBC have recognised that their original access control policy was discriminatory towards disabled people who use mobility aids and non-standard cycles,” she said.

“This will be really positive moving forwards in ensuring that walking, wheeling, and cycling infrastructure in the borough is inclusive of diverse needs.

“I still think it's problematic that they invested time and resources in producing a discriminatory policy for consultation in the first place and I hope that they are reviewing the processes that resulted in that situation.”

Ryan joined as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.

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