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Cyclist challenges council over barriers on popular cycle route that "discriminate against disabled people"

"We are finding time and again that disabled people are denied access to spaces that other people can access"...

A cyclist in Newcastle has sent a legal letter to the city's council to challenge the lawfulness of barriers on a National Cycle Route which prevent him from accessing the path on his recumbent.

Alastair Fulcher has Parkinson's Disease which affects his balance, core strength and ability to walk, but is able to continue to enjoy cycling thanks to his tricycle.

However, the 61-year-old from Wallsend, is unable to ride the National Cycle Route 72 past Pottery Bank due to the barriers installed to prevent motor vehicles accessing the route.

"The fact is, as I have discovered, cycle paths are riddled with barriers such as these," he said. "It is just that this one is so important, being on an
internationally recognised cycle path. The location of this barrier completely denies access to me to all of the network of cycle tracks west of this point. On a bicycle, you can ride all the way to Carlisle on mostly quiet cycle paths. For me, that's not possible on my recumbent.

Cyclist challenges council over barriers on popular cycle route that "discriminate against disabled people" (Alastair Fulcher)

"I do not believe the motorcycle nuisance at Pottery Bank is so bad that a disabled cyclist should have to pay the price for tackling the issue."

Represented by human rights solicitor Ryan Bradshaw of Leigh Day, Alastair says the barriers put Newcastle City Council in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Human Rights Act 1998, the Equality Act 2010 and planning guidance of local authorities. He has sent a legal letter to the council to challenge the lawfulness of the barriers.

"The last time I rode through the NCR 72 barrier at Pottery Bank on a bicycle was 10 July 2022. In common with a great many able-bodied people, it never occurred to me how much of a problem this barrier causes," he explained.

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"The progression of my Parkinson's disease had made, in my opinion, continued riding of a solo bicycle unwise; it was eventually going to end in casualty with a broken collarbone or worse. This is why I purchased the recumbent HD26 during August 2022. This has allowed me to continue to be active and it greatly mitigates my Parkinson's symptoms."

The disabled people's cycling organisation Wheels for Wellbeing has also supported Alastair's case, saying "we are finding time and again that disabled people are denied access to spaces that other people can access".

A spokesperson said: "So many physical barriers have been put in which are far more effective at preventing legitimate users from using paths and open spaces than they are at preventing the problems that are the pretext for the barriers.

Cyclist challenges council over barriers on popular cycle route that "discriminate against disabled" (Alastair Fulcher)

"Barriers on cycle routes are preventing disabled people from making local journeys using all sorts of mobility aids, and restricting access to exercise, recreation and natural spaces, which are all so important for physical and mental health.

"If there really are problems with abuse of paths, it is a policing matter. Authorities need to make it easier to report problems to the police, not discriminate against disabled people with inaccessible barriers."

Cycling planning guidance from local authorities states routes must be accessible to recumbents, trikes, handcycles and other cycles used by disabled cyclists.

Furthermore, access control measures such as chicane barriers and dismount signs "should not be used where they reduce usability and may exclude people riding non-standard cycles and cargo bikes".

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"Schemes should not be designed in a way that access controls, obstructions or barriers are even necessary. The built environment should be accessible to all, including young people, older people and disabled people… design should begin with the principle that all potential cyclists and their machines should be catered for in all cycle infrastructure design," it continues.

Alastair and his solicitor have also pointed to the European Convention on Human Rights Article 2 Protocol 4 which enforces the right to freedom of movement, while Article 14 prevents discrimination in securing the rights and freedoms laid out in the Convention.

They also note that the 2010 Equality Act states that unlawful discrimination because of disability takes place if the disabled person's treatment cannot be shown to be proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Alastair refutes that any Northumbria Police reported concerns about motorcycle-related anti-social behaviour justifies the installation of the barriers.

He says that the council has failed in its duty to make reasonable adjustments to avoid disadvantaging disabled people and indirect discrimination has taken place.

Having first contacted the council about the barrier in November 2022, another was installed in May of this year.

A spokesperson from Newcastle City Council has said: "We are aware of a complaint from a resident with regards to the cycle path on Pottery Bank. This is currently being reviewed, therefore we are unable to comment further at this time."

Alastair's solicitor Mr Bradshaw said: "It is always disappointing to come across infrastructure that is inaccessible to disabled people. The fact that these barriers have been installed on a National Cycle Route compounds the issue. All cycling routes should be inclusive and accessible by default, disabled people should not have to threaten court action in order to enjoy the types of leisure activities the rest of us can take for granted."

Dan joined in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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