York’s Liberal Democrat councillors have called on the council’s new Labour administration to be guided by advice from Police and counter-terrorism experts in their current review of city centre access arrangements.
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 and there is also a suggestion that Executive Members didn’t even see the questions before they were made public.
Cllr Ayre has re-stated the Lib Dem group’s commitment to keeping city centre access arrangements under review.
“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 to protect all in the city centre have 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.”
The council’s ‘consultation’ is available at https://www.york.gov.uk/consultations#bba