Chris welcomes Women and Equalities Committee Report

Lord Holmes giving evidence on shared space at the Women and Equalities Select Committee

Today (25th April 2017) the House of Commons Select Committee published their report and findings into their enquiry into Disability and the Built Environment including housing and shared space schemes in the public realm. Chris welcomed the report’s recommendations saying:

“I’m grateful that the Committee has recognised the importance of this issue and consulted so widely with stakeholders and disabled people as well as disability groups. The impact on people’s lives when public spaces are not accessible is devastating. Inclusive design must be the golden thread that runs through all new buildings and works in the public realm.

 I’m also delighted that the committee agree with my recommendation that a moratorium on shared space schemes is necessary. Local authorities require clarity in this space and the exclusion of people from their communities and potential waste of public money must end.”

Key recommendations include:

  • Strategic leadership The Government has a range of levers that can be used to achieve more accessible built environments, but is not using them well enough. Greater co-ordination and leadership is needed to make this framework effective, and to make it clear that inclusive design is a statutory requirement, not just a ‘nice to do’.
  • Designing for equality The Government should make it easier for local planning authorities to follow this lead through revision and clarification of national planning policy and guidance. Local plans should not be found sound without evidence that they address access for disabled people in terms of housing, public spaces and the wider built environment; to support this, the Equality and Human Rights Commission should investigate the Planning Inspectorate’s compliance with the Equality Act. Planning consent should only be given where there is evidence that a proposal makes sufficient provision for accessibility.
  • Housing More ambition is needed in the standards the Government sets for the homes that the country desperately needs. Housing standards need to be future-proofed and to produce meaningful choice in housing, not just to respond to immediate local need. The Government should raise the mandatory minimum to Category 2, the equivalent of the former Lifetime Homes standard, and apply it to all new homes – including the conversion of buildings such as warehouses or former mills into homes.
  • Public buildings and places Much more can be done to make the public realm and public buildings more accessible: through building accessible workplaces, and incentivising employers to improve existing ones; by updating the regulations for new buildings and amending the Licensing Act 2003. Greater provision of Changing Places toilets should be a specific priority: such facilities should be required in all large building developments that are open to the public.
  • Shared Spaces Shared spaces schemes are a source of concern to many disabled people across the country, particularly features such as the removal of controlled crossings and kerbs and inconsistency in the design of schemes from place to place. The report recommends that the Government halt the use is such schemes pending the urgent replacement of the 2011 guidance on shared spaces, ensure that the new guidance is developed with the involvement of disabled people – and that it is followed in practice.

Read the full report here.

Read Chris’s comment piece for Transport Network here.

 

 

Chris interviewed for launch of podcast on eye health and sight loss

VISION 2020 UK, the umbrella organisation which leads collaboration in eye health and sight loss, has launched a podcast. This new platform will look at the major topics of interest within the eye health and sight loss sector, with expert analysis, opinion and debate. The podcast is an educational forum for professionals, service users and carers as well as those with no knowledge of the topics.

Hosted by John Welsman, Guide Dogs Policy Business Partner, the podcasts will be released on a monthly basis and will focus on one topic or interview per episode, highlighting the work of the VISION 2020 UK Standing Committees, as well as discussions with leaders in the sector on topics such as rehabilitation, dementia, children and certification.

The first two podcasts are now available through the VISION 2020 UK website, on audioboom, and will soon be found on iTunes (search ‘VISION 2020 UK’). These episodes feature Mercy Jeyasingham, CEO, VISION 2020 UK and Chris! Chris gives listeners an understanding of his background, his achievements to date and his areas of concern and interest around eye health and sight loss. One of his major areas of concern is the issue of shared space.

John Welsman, commented, “Podcasts are a great way of discussing complex topics as well as being entertaining and informative. The ability of people to listen to the podcast on their commute, in their car or at home is a great way of communicating these issues. I look forward to working with VISION 2020 UK to create an engaging and professional podcast”.

Listen to Chris’s interview

 

Why did the blind man cross the road?

Lord Holmes and Lottie at side of Exhibition Road as taxi passes

I have been campaigning for some time against a street design approach known as “shared space” which has, de facto, led to the creation of unsafe environments which discriminate against blind people and negatively impact the vast majority of users.

The Department for Transport defines shared space as:

A street or place designed to improve pedestrian movement and comfort by reducing the dominance of motor vehicles and enabling all users to share the space rather than follow the clearly defined rules implied by more conventional designs.”

The key part here is a desire for “all users to share the space” so “traffic signals are often removed, with indications of priority at minor junctions omitted… conventional kerbs are omitted and pedestrians share an undifferentiated surface with vehicles.”

On Wednesday I gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee whose inquiry into disability and the built environment has asked “to what extent do shared space schemes in roads and highways cause barriers for disabled people and how can these be resolved?”

Throughout the course of my campaign, increasing numbers of professionals have responded by asserting that shared space is no longer a useful term. Indeed, the man who claims responsibility for introducing the term in 2003, Ben Hamilton-Baillie, who also gave evidence, claimed that “the term has stuck in ways it was never meant to.” Discomfort over the term has even extended to one local authority currently introducing a scheme in Bodmin, where the council website now statestechnically we are not delivering a true shared space scheme.”

Whilst, like any campaigner, I am pleased to have arrived at an area of consensus, and I can certainly agree that “shared space” is a complicated, confusing and contested term I would also have to insist that as long as the government continues to use the term in official guidance the confusion will continue.

A further area of agreement that all sides have arrived at is the need for much better data. It seems very hard to find evidence that satisfactorily answers questions about the accessibility of these schemes as it is so rarely included as an objective, or indeed consideration, of a design plan.

Clearly, arguing about a definition of shared space is far less useful than taking a closer look at design components and what impact those features have. I am in no way opposed to: innovation and change, a more attractive public realm, or town centre regeneration but it is absolutely essential to look at how this is achieved.

If inclusive design is not the bedrock from the outset, schemes will inevitably fail, exclude, cause confusion, chaos and significant potential cost to councils facing legal challenges and further works. Pedestrian crossings are a key area. Of the 14 local authorities enacting U-Turns on their so called shared space schemes, 11 have reintroduced crossings.

The DfT have suggested that a review of shared space currently underway by the Chartered Institute of Highway Transportation will reconcile many of these concerns although CIHT stated yesterday at the evidence session that although their review will make recommendations it will NOT be sufficient to update guidance and that that would require further input from the government.

Real change will only be achieved when local authorities put inclusive design at the heart of any work in the public realm and this means asking at the outset “how does a blind person cross the road”?

 

Chris gives evidence to Commons Select Committee

Lord Holmes giving evidence on shared space at the Women and Equalities Select Committee

On Wednesday 7th December from 10.30am Chris gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee. This was a public session in The Thatcher Room, Portculllis House, it was live streamed and is still available to watch on Parliament Live. As part of their current Inquiry into Disability and the Built Environment the Committee has asked: “to what extent do shared space schemes in roads and highways cause barriers for disabled people and how can these be resolved? A major advocate of shared space in the UK, Ben Hamilton Baillie also gave evidence.

Surveyor Transport Network were in the audience and reported on the Chartered Institution of Highway Engineers (CIHT) announcement that they believed there was still much to be done by government to improve the situation.

 

Parliamentary inquiry to look at shared space

TV camera and reporter interviewing Chris in Sloane Square

Chris welcomes the Women and Equalities Committee’s decision to conduct an inquiry into disability and the built environment. The inquiry will ask whether more could be done to increase the accessibility and inclusivity of both new and existing properties and spaces. In particular they ask whether shared space schemes in roads and highways cause barriers for disabled people and how can these be resolved.  Chris did some filming with BBC Breakfast in Sloane Square and they also sent cameras to Poynton to draw attention to the inquiry. You can see Chris’s evidence here and follow the inquiry through the committee’s website.

The terms of reference for the inquiry include:

Design and management of the public realm

  • Are the needs of all groups given adequate consideration in the design of streets, highways, parks and publicly accessible open spaces and in the provision of services such as public toilets?
  • To what extent do shared space schemes in roads and highways cause barriers for disabled people and how can these be resolved?
  • What opportunities are there for delivering greater accessibility and inclusivity alongside more age-friendly towns and cities, including liaison with the NHS?

Media response:

The Times, “Shared spaces for drivers and pedestrians ‘are causing chaos'”, October 24th 2016.

Evening Standard, “Roads shared by pedestrians, cyclists and drivers ’cause chaos’, government report finds”, October 24th 2016.

Shared Space Summit

shared space summit in House of Lords

December 3rd is the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities and the theme for 2015, ‘Inclusion Matters’ considers access and empowerment for people of all abilities with a special focus on how to make cities inclusive and accessible for all. The Institute of Highway Engineers sponsored an event in Parliament, hosted by Chris, which considered the difficulties currently created by shared space schemes in the UK and asked “are shared spaces inclusive”? There was a fantastic turnout: engineers, designers, planners, academics, campaigners, disability groups, parliamentarians, lawyers, local authorities and absolutely all agreed that there was a pressing need for better research, better data and better guidance. Let’s hope this happens.

Shared Space Summit on Radio 4, You and Yours, 4th December

Shared Space Report

Daily Politics asks if ‘shared space’ is safe….

Inside Daily Politics Studio with Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn

Chris answers with an emphatic NO!  The Daily Politics looked at shared space on the day of a debate Chris had tabled in the House of Lords to question the government over the controversial schemes he has been campaigning against. Shared space is a design approach which minimizes demarcations between vehicle traffic and pedestrians often removing features such as curbs, road surface markings, traffic signs, controlled crossings and regulations. Increasingly popular with local authorities Chris complains that it is a social experiment that risks public safety and scares people away from their own high streets. With increasing numbers of local authorities now facing legal action and/or making expensive U-turns Chris asked the government if Department for Transport guidance (LTN 1/11 Shared Space) is “fit for purpose”. He was joined in the debate by Lord Low, Baroness Thomas, Baroness Royall, Lord Tope, Lord Rosser and Lord Ahmed. Baroness Kramer dealt with this issue when she was Minister for Transport in the last government and it was great hearing that she very much supports the specific recommendations made in the Holmes Report.

Lord Holmes: Government must act on dangerous ‘shared space’ projects, Politics Home

Guide Dogs support Lord Holmes, Politics Home

Accidents by Design: The Holmes Report into Shared Space

Shared surface roads “like a pernicious class A drug” says Paralympic gold medallist, Cornish Guardian

Gloucestershire peer says shared space will turn city centres into ‘no go areas’ for deaf and blind, Gloucester Citizen

 

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