Better disability access into Peterborough city centre promised after St Peter’s Arcade row

Better access into the city centre for people with disabilities has been promised by a council Cabinet member.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 4:58 am

Cllr Marco Cereste, cabinet member for waste, street scene and the environment at Peterborough City Council, made the commitment following a heated exchange with a disabled resident who criticised him over the proposed closure of St Peter’s Arcade.

Phill Brentor, who receives disability benefits as he cannot walk more than 20 metres without having to rest, challenged Cllr Cereste’s assertions that closing the walkway between the back of the Town Hall and Bridge Street due to Covid restrictions has improved visitor numbers for businesses.

The arcade is popular with people with disabilities who can use it to access Bridge Street from the disabled parking bays in St Peter’s Road rather than go via the pavement next to Bourges Boulevard.

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St Peter's Arcade

Cllr Cereste told the Peterborough Telegraph that if the current, temporary closure of St Peter’s Arcade due to is made permanent then new and better parking spaces for Blue Badge holders would be provided as part of a wider city centre review.

The Cabinet member, who said he was responsible for putting the disabled bays in behind the Town Hall when he was previously council leader, said: “I have absolutely every sympathy and understanding for people who are disabled and whose lives are slightly different to ours.

“So we are looking at alternative parking bays in the event St Peter’s Arcade is closed. We will provide parking bays even closer to the city centre so people with mobility issues can park closer to it than they can now.”

Mr Brentor had challenged Cllr Cereste during last week’s Full Council meeting over his assertion businesses in Bridge Street had seen increased footfall since the arcade had closed.

During the debate Mr Brentor quoted an answer Cllr Cereste had given on St Peter’s Arcade at a scrutiny committee meeting last November - which was covered by the PT - where he said: “It would do everybody the world of good, unless you’re disabled, to walk the extra 25 yards around the building.”

After reading out the quote, Mr Brentor continued: “It’s not 25 yards, it is actually 252 yards - there is a big difference.

“With all the major banks in Peterborough being more easily accessible through St Peter’s Arcade when parked in the most used disabled parking spaces at that end of the town centre... just how far extra does this Conservative-led council feel it is acceptable to ask disabled persons to walk?”

Cllr Cereste responded: “I find your question offensive, quite frankly, Mr Brenton, because you’ve never seen me tell anybody, or heard from me anyway, that it’s an extra 25 yards, so I don’t know where you got that.”

Told it had been quoted in the press, he replied: “Well, the press they quote all sorts of things, but it wasn’t from me, because I know, the same as you know, it’s not 25 yards, and I would never say such a thing.”

Asked about that on Tuesday after the PT found video footage of the original quote, Cllr Cereste said he had not remembered saying the words and that the distance depended on which of the disabled bays someone parked in.

He said: “I was obviously mistaken but it’s been taken out of context.

“It depends where you park your car and where you want to go.”

On the question of whether closing St Peter’s Arcade has improved footfall in Bridge Street, Cllr Cereste said between the two lockdowns that had been the case, and that research has shown people who go through the walkway end up heading into Queensgate rather than visiting shops near the Bourges Boulevard crossing, an issue he wants to address.

He added: ”The reality of it is, businesses and lots of people are reporting to me they have better footfall down Bridge Street. I only want what’s best for Peterborough - it has to be right that closing St Peter’s Arcade improves footfall down Bridge Street at the bottom end.”

Mr Brentor said he had signed statements from senior managers at stores in Bridge Street denying that closing the arcade had improved footfall.

He added: “All persons that I spoke too said that the only thing that they could say with any confidence was that the only thing that had made a difference to trade in the past year was Covid-19.”

The planned closure of St Peter’s Arcade will allow for a new café culture to be developed, while council leader Cllr John Holdich has previously highlighted anti-social behaviour in the walkway as a recent to close it permanently.