Council urged to reverse Kettering street's 'extreme' daytime taxi ban
Taxis can only use Newland Street at night, leaving disabled shoppers forced to be picked up elsewhere
A move to ban taxis from a Kettering street during the day must be reversed because it is penalising disabled shoppers, councillors have argued.
For a number of years Newland Street, used by many as a rat-run, has been a pedestrian zone with buses and taxis allowed to travel through it at all hours.
But since August new rules and signs have been in place, warning taxi drivers they are now only permitted to drive through it between the hours of 8pm and 8am.
Tonight (Wednesday) Kettering Town Council will decide whether to lobby North Northamptonshire Council to reverse the decision immediately.
Cllr Clark Mitchell (Lab, Avondale Grange) has called on NNC to revert to allowing taxis to use the street at all hours, to allow shoppers with mobility issues to be picked up from and dropped off at popular stores including Iceland and Wilko.
He said: "As with a lot of things that happen the original idea came from a good place. Cars were using Newland Street as a shortcut through the town and it was a major inconvenience for the bus drivers and pedestrians. Something had to be done but this decision is too extreme.
"This motion is not about allowing taxis to use Newland Street as a shortcut. It is about providing the vulnerable residents of our community with the facilities they need.
"With the current ban on taxis using it in the daytime, residents who have mobility issues are being penalised. The Learning Centre, Iceland and Wilko are all used by many residents who would massively benefit from being picked up outside the entrance. This ban stops that happening. Taxis should be allowed to pick up and drop off in Newland Street."
North Northamptonshire Council say shoppers accessing the Newland Centre are able to do so via taxi by using the designated bays in Gold Street.
But cabbie Jon Lott, from Premier Taxis, said: "A lot of our passengers are either elderly or in a wheelchair - how are they supposed to walk to Gold Street carrying six bags of shopping?"
Newland Street is now classed as a pedestrian and cycle zone with buses and loading vehicles only allowed to drive through it. Taxis, who previously had 24-hour usage of the street, are now restricted to 12 hours at times where virtually no shoppers will be there.
Cllr Anne Lee (Lab), who represents the Windmill ward on North Northamptonshire Council (NNC), said disabled residents have contacted her to say that they have no way of getting to the shops in Newland Street.
She added: "Decisions are now being made outside Kettering, so it is up to the unitary councillors to stand up against decisions like this one which make life so much harder for our residents."
An email sent by NNC's assistant director of highways Graeme Kane, seen by the Northants Telegraph, said the decision to make the changes was led by the former Kettering Borough Council and that there had been no objections in a consultation phase.
He said vehicles using the street during the day can contribute to traffic congestion at the busy junction of Eskdaill Street, Lower Street and Rockingham Road, because a vehicle movement in Newland Street triggers the lights.
Mr Kane said the decision to change the Newland Street rules was designed to address air pollution and congestion, as well as encouraging walking and cycling.
He admitted the scheme had had 'unintended' consequences for residents with particular needs and said it could be changed - but that permitting taxis to use it during the day is likely to 'undermine the original objectives to some degree'.
A NNC spokesman said: “Highways works in Newland Street, Kettering, have now been completed, improving access for cyclists and pedestrians.
“Proposals for the rejuvenation of Newland Street had been prepared over a number of years, working with businesses in the location to develop the scheme, including taking into account delivery times for retailers.
“The restriction of vehicles accessing Newland Street was implemented as a safety improvement as the route had been used as a rat-run.
“Shoppers accessing the Newland Centre are able to do so via taxi by using the designated bays in Gold Street.”