Leeds could “live to regret” plans to revamp the area around Leeds City Station if passed in their current form, according to a West Leeds council member.
The plans, which include pedestrianising New Station Street, moving the taxi rank down to Bishopgate Street and installing lifts and stairs to link the two, went before a meeting of the authority’s City Plans Panel this week.
The council received representations from disability group claiming the plans may discriminate against those with disabilities as taxi drop-off points would be too far from the station entrance.
This led to a heated debate among councillors, with some believing the plans in their current form would move pedestrians too far from trains when travelling to the station.
Leader of Leeds City Council’s Green Party group, Coun David Blackburn (Farnley & Wortley), said:
“None of the alternatives are good for anybody – I think Network Rail might regret what they are doing in the long run. New Station Street has had many changes over the years.
“We are moving people further away from the railway station – tied up with what we are doing in City Square, we might live to regret it.
“We are taking people further away from accessing the railways.”
Coun Dan Cohen (Con) added: “When you have to move somebody around in a wheelchair, it completely alters how you view a city. Things you previously accepted, you suddenly realise are not acceptable.
“You see a city through different eyes. To have thrown on top of that additional challenge is not something any of us want to go through.
“I struggle here – it is clear to me that we are creating something that is not as accessible as it should be.
“I don’t believe that every possibility has been exhausted. I can’t easily sit approving something that in my heart I know isn’t as good as it should be.”
At a previous meeting of the panel it was suggested a ramp be included to link the proposed taxi rank on Bishopgate Street with the concourse on New Station Street.
A number of letters were received by the council claiming the scheme would exclude and discriminate against adults and children living with disabilities, as the taxi rank would no longer be by the front entrance of the station, making it far more difficult to access trains.
Leeds City Council access officer Bairbre McKendrick told the meeting: “There were people who said they would like to have the taxis right at the entrance, but they recognised they needed to move cars off New Station Street to achieve the wider objectives of the project, to make it less busy and less congested.
“While there are people who would benefit from having taxis at the entrance, from putting in lifts and seating, we believe we have created an accessible route to the taxi rank. The facilities will be of a high access.”
Commending on the application, Coun Paul Wadsworth (Con) said: “I share the fact it is not going to be 100 percent accessible, but we are effectively moving the station concourse outside because we are told we will need that space for passengers – so the only other option would be to leave the taxi rank where it is and do nothing.
“You may think that’s a good idea, but Network Rail seem to say we’ll be compromising passenger numbers and security.
“If you want to do nothing, you’ll have to propose it – it is not something I am prepared to propose.”
Coun Al Garthwaite (Lab) said: “I am not entirely happy with this but I don’t have a solution. I fear those dreaded words on the lift saying “lift out of order”.
“It’s not just for people who might have a mobility disability – it can be people with children in pushchairs or heavy bags. It does worry me. The issue of just a lift or steps concerns me, but I don’t have constructive suggestions.”
Coun Colin Campbell (Lib Dem) said: “We are being asked a principle – the principle is to expand the concourse in front of the station.
“New Station Street is a terrible environment for people trying to get in and out of a station – it is really unpleasant.
“We did get lobbied about an issue in relation to taxis. I have sympathy with those people who need immediate assistance.
“I can support the principle of taking all traffic off New Station Street.”
Coun Peter Gruen (Lab) said: “I used to be quite convinced that Leeds United not being in the Premier League and the station being what it was were the two biggest disadvantages the city had.
“We have solved one of them, and we are hopefully about to solve the other.
“The city needs a much better station with much better access than it has. But I share almost every word Dan Cohen said – I find it impossible to vote for a scheme that is not fully inclusive.
“If you’re not careful, the people you are squeezing out are the people who are not able-bodied.”
No decision was made, as a final version of the plans is set to go before the board in the coming months.