A popular shopping street will close to traffic for just three days a week as councillors looked for a compromise between traders and the needs of people with disabilities.
The row over Gardner Street, Brighton, has rumbled on for the past three years since it was closed to all traffic except bicycles in July 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.
The closure left a woman with disabilities imprisoned in her home, unable to attend vital hospital and other medical appointments.
Her situation was made worse at the start of this year after councillors voted to close the street to all traffic except cyclists from 11am to 5pm every day.
They also voted to remove the two disabled parking bays outside her home, with the council saying that extra bays had been created in a neighbouring road.
Ann Ingle, who has lived in Gardner Street for more than 15 years, is unable to walk or use a wheelchair because of her complex and chronic health conditions.
She relied on a patient transport ambulance outside her front door but the road closure made it impossible for her to come and go from her own home.
One disability charity said that she was not the only disabled resident in the road to be affected by the closure – and many blue badge holders were now unable to shop there.
But traders have been lobbying for Gardner Street to stay closed to traffic so that they can put tables and chairs out in the road as well as displays of goods.
Even today (Tuesday 3 October) at Hove Town Hall, one councillor spelt out his concerns that this would hinder access for ambulances and other emergency vehicles.
Business owners also told the council that trade had fallen since the latest changes came in earlier this year, criticising the council for insisting on enough space for cyclists and mobility scooters.
But they appear to have underestimated how many customers can no longer reach their shops.
Two charities – Possability People and BADGE – previously said that 13,500 people in Brighton and Hove alone relied on vehicles or wheelchairs as mobility aids.
And a number of disabled people and their carers have spoken about an unofficial boycott of Gardner Street businesses because of perceptions about their attitude towards people with disabilities.
In the end today, eight members of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Transport and Sustainability Committee – all Labour – voted for the new arrangements.
As a result, Gardner Street will close to traffic from 11am to 7pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on bank holidays.
Green councillor Steve Davis and Conservative councillor Samer Bagaeen voted against the change.
As a result, traders will be allowed to put tables and chairs in the road again although they many want a full pedestrianisation of the street.
One business owner, Ian Baldry, director of I’s Pies Limited, which operates as the Cornish Pasty Shop, addressed councillors at Hove Town Hall today.
He was concerned that councillors would not listen to all the responses in support of a seven-day closure to traffic.
He feared that councillors were ignoring the 402 responses to a petition set up by traders which accounted for the bulk of the 549 comments on the council’s latest consultation.
Mr Baldry said: “The repercussion of this decision will be felt by all residents of Brighton and Hove and beyond.
“The needs of all residents including the disabled and the elderly as well as the complex needs of the businesses in the North Laine should be considered.”
Council lawyer Natasha Watson, the committee’s legal adviser, said that councillors would take all the responses into account and decide how much weight to give each of them.
Of the other 147 comments, 91 supported reducing the number of days on which the road was closed and 54 objected.
Labour councillor Trevor Muten, who chairs the council’s Transport and Sustainability Committee, and his fellow Labour councillor Leslie Pumm, who leads on equalities, met traders, residents and disability action groups to try to resolve the issues to suit all sides.
Councillor Pumm said this evening: “We had many consultations, stakeholder meetings, brainstorming sessions and we were taking every angle and perspective and challenging all the consequences – and this is what we came up with.
“This is not the end of the conversation. Brighton and Hove is constantly developing and we hope this is not the end of developing the North Laine but this is a workable compromise for the next 10 years.”
Councillor Davis criticised Labour for disbanding the active travel forum, saying that the council should listen to stakeholder groups.
He said that Labour had previously supported the continued closure of Gardner Street, adding: “I just feel using disability as a political football is the wrong approach.”
Councillor Bagaeen said: “We continue to look at Gardner Street in isolation. We recently agreed a TRO (traffic regulation order) to close Sydney Street.
“We’re not looking at that part of the North Laine in totality – and the impact will have a knock-on effect.”
Brighton and Hove City Council first closed Gardner Street to all traffic except cycles seven days a week during the covid pandemic in July 2020 as a temporary measure.
In September 2021, the closure reverted to weekends and bank holidays only.
The current closure seven days a week came into force in January this year with the disabled parking bays being removed and extra bays added in neighbouring Regent Street.