Building for Equality: Disability and the Built Environment Contents

6Shared spaces

155.The ability to access, and use the public realm—to do things as basic as using shops and meeting up with people outside your home—is vitally important to people’s ability to be, and to feel, active members of society. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that we received a significant number of submissions specifically on shared spaces—a form of street design intended to decrease the dominance of motor traffic—probably the most significant of any single topic. We heard worrying evidence that Government inaction on this issue has caused real harm to the ability of many disabled people to live their lives, even in one case preventing an older man from leaving his home unaided.

156.While other of our recommendations should have a positive impact on people’s concerns about the decisions of local authorities to adopt shared space schemes—such as the use of inclusive design criteria in public procurement—the volume and strength of submissions told us that the issue needed specific consideration. We are not the only ones to think so: The House of Lords Committee on the Equality Act and Disability felt that there were advantages and disadvantages to this form of street design, but recommended that the Government update its guidance for local authorities to address “how shared spaces schemes can best cater for the needs of disabled people.”243 While there are no official statistics on the prevalence of shared spaces, partly because the term is used to describe such a range of different possible designs, there is a broad consensus that their use is increasing. Our evidence demonstrates this is an issue on which people hold very strong views.

What is a ‘shared space’?

157.The first barrier we came across in understanding the issues was that there is no definitive explanation of the term ‘shared space’. Ben Hamilton-Baillie, an urban design consultant strongly associated with the term, told us that it “was not meant to describe a particular type of space with particular characteristics”, but “a way of thinking about the design process and the engagement process, in order to improve the quality of public life”.244 The Department for Communities and Local Government described shared spaces as:

one approach to street design and public realm among many available to local authorities to consider. Like all public realm improvements the aim is to help create attractive places that people want to spend time in, without the dominance of motor traffic, achieved through a range of measures. Within a shared space scheme, the intention is to encourage all types of road users to share the full width of the street.245

158.The Department for Transports’ Local Transport Note (LTN) 1/11246 which was produced in October 2011 and covers all shared space areas contains the following definition:

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.247

The Note goes on to say:

There is no such thing as a definitive shared space design. Each site is different and the way a street performs will depend on its individual characteristics, the features included and how these features work in combination.248

159.Given this, we looked to the specific features of shared spaces that appeared to be raising the most concern. The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport identified these as:

the removal of traditional delineators between pedestrians and vehicles (such as kerbs and controlled crossing points) and the mixing of pedestrians and vehicles in the same street space249

This characterisation chimes with the evidence that we heard.

Shared spaces in practice

160.The urban designer Ben Hamilton-Baillie argued strongly that shared space principles present opportunities to “reduce the severe inequalities for disabled people created by conventional highway-dominated streets”.250 He told us that:

Initiatives to improve streetscapes are prompted by a range of different objectives. Usually these are associated with the adverse effects of dominant traffic on the economic vitality and social quality of a community. Higher speeds and highway dominance increasingly reduce the accessibility and connectivity of towns, and shops and local businesses suffer as a consequence. Other objectives are often associated with improving safety, inclusiveness, improving noise and air quality, and reducing congestion and delays. Although every scheme varies, the revitalisation effect of reducing traffic dominance through shared space is a common outcome.251

161.The reduction of traffic dominance, and reducing vehicle speeds, was a common theme among those who supported the use of shared spaces. The Urban Design Group told us that:

One of the objectives of Shared Schemes is to reduce vehicle speeds to below a level where they are capable of inflicting serious and fatal injuries on vulnerable road users. There is evidence from schemes such as Poynton or Bexleyheath High Street that the approach is successful.252

162.David McKenna (a chartered landscape architect and chartered engineer)253 argued that reducing vehicle speed is “the only way to be certain you are improving safety.” Urban Design Group agreed, pointing out that “conventional kerbs do not stop fast moving vehicles, and [ … ] the primary source of danger is the vehicles themselves, rather than the configuration of the street.254 Mr McKenna went further, arguing that:

The more barriers and separation placed between pedestrians and vehicles, the higher the speed that drivers feel is appropriate. Designing a street or square in the manner of a pedestrianised scheme with no demarcation or barriers between pedestrians and vehicles is one of the best ways to slow traffic.255

163.This view was strongly rejected by many of our witnesses. Ken Miles of Kinross spoke of “daily near misses” due to speeding traffic in one area described as a shared space,256 and Marianne Scullion in Kirkintilloch told us how she was almost knocked down when a van chose to overtake a car that had stopped to allow her to cross.257 Guide Dogs Ashford told us of how claims that the scheme there had slowed traffic and fostered “mutual respect” had been met with “laughter, often bitter, and some tears”.258

164.Jane Sellers, a blind person who had been involved in testing shared space schemes in London and Brighton, argued that “England is not as safe with regards to drivers who drive at higher speed than is necessary” compared with the countries where the schemes originated.259 In Leeds we heard how one person had found himself stranded in his new home (a housing complex for people over the age of 55) because there was a shared space scheme outside his front door:

to my dismay subsequent to unpacking my belongings to move in, I found that because of the way that Burton House was situated [ … ] I could not get out and navigate my way to the main road and beyond [ … ]. The road to this day from my front door of the building where I live to the main road has a 30mph sign at the entrance which I am unable to get reduced to 20mph or less. Even at 20mph I would still have to navigate on the road surface itself with traffic coming towards me which I would not be able to see [ … ] and the only practical way out for me is by vehicle driven by a sighted person.260

165.Having rejected the argument that ‘shared spaces’ led to a reduction in vehicle speeds, witnesses went on to identify a range of features as problematic. These included the removal of kerbs, which those who were blind and partially sighted relied on to know when they were at risk of stepping into traffic: In Birmingham, a blind guide dog user described how he had been struck by a car in a shared space, because the lack of a kerb led his Guide Dog inadvertently to take him into the road to avoid scaffolding blocking the way;261 the removal of controlled crossings, which many disabled people relied on to safely cross the road—both those with visual impairments262 and those with neuro-diverse conditions or learning disabilities who “rely on set rules and have little flexibility of thought”,263 variations in the type of tactile paving used and colour schemes, leading to confusion as the ‘message’ given by these features varied from one scheme to another;264 and designs that mandated the mixing of pedestrians and motor traffic—linked significantly to safety concerns.265

166.More than half of the submissions we received for this inquiry from private individuals were specifically on shared spaces, with many of those from disabled people speaking from personal experience. The number of individuals whose submissions cited safety concerns is striking. We have highlighted just a few of these in the box below.

Box 3: Evidence of safety concerns in shared space schemes

Michael Broderick: As a person with Cerebral Palsy who walks with crutches and who had previously fallen in a roadway years ago, shared space schemes terrify me. [ … ] With traditional roadway schemes and traffic lights or zebra crossings I have always had a level of comfort that—despite my disability—I have time to get across the road and that I will be seen. With shared space I have no comfort. I have fear. [ … ] I am a proud disabled man. I am not a second class citizen. But shared space schemes certainly make me feel like one.266

Marianne Scullion: Crossing this junction means you have to get eye contact from four sets of drivers before you can cross and is absolute chaos, especially at 3.30 when the schools are out. I obtained eye contact from the drivers when crossing but a van overtook at speed whilst I was on the road and could have knocked me down. Another lady and child were crossing too and she reported this to the police also. This is extremely unsafe for the blind, children, elderly or disabled people. No-one in Kirkintilloch wants this scheme and I only go into the town now if I have to as it is dangerous.267

Barbara Walker: I have driven a mobility scooter for almost 40 years in the area so I am very aware of what is safe for me. I am unable to cross the main road, Cowgate, where they have removed the pedestrian lights at a junction and put in courtesy crossings. If I try to edge forward to attempt a crossing then I can’t ‘step back’ like a pedestrian as someone would be standing behind me and I would run them down. In addition I find the grey and white patterning of the surface combined with the variation in kerb height visually confusing adding to my difficulty. I feel that this work is now preventing me from supporting many of the local shops and the library as well as my ability to move around the town now being very restricted.268

Josie Iles: I am a blind person with only light perception. I have been a Guide Dog owner but currently navigate using a long cane. Even in areas which are very familiar to me I need to use all the concentration and bravery I can muster to walk independently along a pavement. It is essential that I know where vehicles are likely to be and where the safe refuge of the pavement is. [ … ] I rely heavily on well-defined kerbs. They provide reassuring feedback that I am safe and they are the contours of my mental map, telling me where I am and how to get to my destination. I rely very heavily on formal pedestrian crossings. Ones with traffic lights and audible signals are safest for me but zebras work well too. I need tactile paving to show me where the crossing is. [ … ] Shared space removes kerbs and formal crossings. They really do become ‘no go’ areas. [ … ] As my sight has failed I have become more sensitive to the built environment, I do not take it for granted. It has become more important to me. Remaining independent, getting exercise, interacting with my community is vital to my physical and mental well-being. Shared space makes my world smaller. It excludes and rejects me.269

Gill Sheppard: Gallowtree Gate in Leicester is a paved, traffic-free street. Some years ago the road running across at right-angles to the end of Gallowtree Gate had the same textured paving with no indication that there might be traffic about. Having been encouraged to think that the road in question (whose name I do not know) was part of the traffic-free area, I proceeded to cross it. I discovered the hard way that I was wrong. While roughly in the middle of the road a bus shot by in front of me only inches away. It was a miracle that I was not killed that day.270

Ken Miles: I am writing with information regarding the £1.5 million Kinross High Street shared space/shared surface scheme which was completed one year ago. As a result of serious design failings the scheme has exposed pedestrians to danger from traffic. The Kinross High Street “improvements” have created many increased safety risks to pedestrians as the road remains the main route through the town for most vehicular traffic. Cars, heavy goods, including car transporters, buses, etc. still pass through the Kinross High Street.

As a result the shared space principle whereby pedestrians can own the road space on equal terms with traffic is not possible [ … ] unless you have a deathwish that is.271

167.In 2015 Lord Holmes of Richmond launched a survey about shared spaces. His report, Accidents by Design, published July 2015, concluded that:

Regardless of their mode of transport, disability status or gender, this survey found an overwhelming majority of respondents did not enjoy using shared spaces. This survey also found a third of respondents go out of their way to actively avoid shared space schemes. Respondents who did use them described feeling intimidated, anxious and frightened, not only for their own safety, but also for the safety of others.272

168.The concerns of our individual witnesses were supported by many organisations, including the Thomas Pocklington Trust, Disability Rights UK, Inclusion London, Guide Dogs and a number of local access groups, and also by participants at the outreach events we held in support of this inquiry.273 The Disabled Peoples Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), for example, told us that the nature of some schemes meant that “local authorities and others are restricting the safe independent mobility of many disabled people”.274

169.The Department for Transport’s Local Transport Note acknowledges that “shared space can provide benefits for many disabled people but, if it is poorly designed, it can be problematic for some, particularly blind and partially sighted people.” The guidance goes on to say:

Consideration of the needs of disabled people (among other groups) is an important part of shared space design. The duties under the Equality Act 2010 are particularly relevant. [The Public Sector Equality Duty] requires public bodies to play their part in making society fairer by tackling discrimination and providing equality of opportunity for all. Authorities will need to consider how different people are likely to be affected by new scheme proposals and due regard should be given to the effect they might have on those protected by the duty.275

170.Nevertheless, many argued strongly that local authorities were failing in their obligations under the Equality Act when making decisions on shared space schemes.276 While Mr Hamilton-Baillie was adamant that when he coined the term ‘shared spaces’, the needs of people with disabilities were “central”,277 Andrew Hugill, speaking for the Chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation about a review they were undertaking into shared spaces, told us that:

One thing in the review today is clear. If we actually look for evidence of whether those schemes have created inclusive environments, that evidence is very hard to find. One might suspect that is because it has not been an objective of the scheme from the start.278

171.Such concerns have led to calls for a moratorium on implementation of shared space schemes.279 Lord Holmes argued that the results of his survey showed an “urgent need” for this, “until there is more and better evidence about the impact of shared space schemes including an improved (central) record of accident data and a better understanding of the consequences of people literally designed out of these spaces”.280

172.The Government should not shy away from the debate on ‘shared spaces’ and take leadership. In light of the evidence that such schemes are excluding disabled people from the areas in which they are used, urgent action is needed.

173.We recommend that the Government require local authorities to call a halt to the use of shared space schemes, pending clear national guidance that explicitly addresses the needs of disabled people. This should, in particular, instruct local authorities that controlled crossings and regular height kerbs are to be retained and that they should undertake an urgent review of existing schemes, working with disabled people in their area to identify the changes that are necessary and practicable.

174.As highlighted above, the House of Lords Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability found that local authorities “should not be acting independently without any central guidance.” That Committee pointed out that the Department for Transport’s 2011 Note contains “only a brief reference to the Equality Act, and where the problems of disabled people are dealt with, there is little specific guidance.” That Committee therefore recommended that:

The Department for Transport should update its 2011 Local Transport Note to offer guidance to local authorities on how shared spaces schemes can best cater for the needs of disabled people. Local authorities should review existing schemes in the light of that guidance, make changes where necessary and practicable, and base any new schemes on that guidance.281

175.This need for greater national consistency was echoed by the British Standards Institution’s (BSI) Committee B/559, who wanted “a set of ‘principles’, to ensure that a safe, readable environment is created”. They argued that “this needs to be done centrally, by the government, to ensure credibility, national ‘buy in’ and adoption.282 Leicester Disabled Peoples Access Group (LDPAG) argued that:

There can be conflicts between differing needs—dropped kerbs with tactiles being an example where there had to be compromise to meet the needs of both wheelchair users and blind people. Research was important to find that compromise. Standardisation helps people to recognise the meaning of features wherever they are. With shared space schemes, non-standard features are being used, differing from scheme to scheme even within one town or city. This is not being done in a controlled manner, so poor examples are being copied.283

176.Worryingly, one of the urban designers active in creating ‘shared space schemes’ appeared to be arguing against the use of inclusive design principles:

Everybody uses the streets and spaces in our towns and cities therefore it is essential that a design balances the needs of the very wide range of users. This necessarily requires compromise from everyone. I do not believe that the best design is necessarily one that focuses on the needs of the most vulnerable user group. It is crucial that the design of public realm is not skewed to any particular user group as this will adversely affect others and produce bad design.284

177.The Government rejected the Lords’ Committee’s recommendation, taking the view that it “does not promote or discourage the adoption of shared spaces.” This was because:

Decisions on design of the streets in their care are matters for the local authority, including the provision of pedestrian crossings and delivering public realm improvements. They are responsible for ensuring any measures they provide meet relevant legislation, and enable them to meet their duties under equalities legislation.285

178.The Government did, however refer to the review being undertaken by the CIHT, which it said:

is planning to produce new guidance on shared space. DfT officials are also involved in this work and sit on the project steering group. [ … ] Although this will be published by CIHT, not DfT, there is the opportunity for DfT to endorse the document as good practice, which will help its standing among practitioners.286

179.However, it appears that as the work has progressed the CIHT have realised that guidance may not yet be feasible. Andrew Hugill of the CIHT told us that this had been the intention at an earlier stage but “what we are doing at the moment is a review where we will be making recommendations.”287 He was clear that the review “in itself will not be sufficient to change everything”. Lord Holmes found it “curious” that the Department for Transport was not taking a leadership role “hand in hand” with the Department for Communities and Local Government. Mr Hugill agreed, stating “Does the Government have a responsibility? Yes.”288

180.We were concerned to hear that the Government now appears to expect the results of the review of shared spaces by the Chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation to be the identification of gaps in evidence—not new guidance—leaving no clear plan to address the lack of a common approach on shared spaces that takes full account of the extensive concerns of disabled people and the organisations that represent them. The Government does not seem to have grasped the seriousness of the barrier to inclusion that certain features (or the lack of certain features) present to so many disabled people.

181.We recommend that the Government takes a clear lead and urgently replaces the 2011 Local Transport Note on shared spaces with new guidance, founded on an inclusive design approach, to ensure that any resultant schemes are inclusive, navigable and welcoming for disabled people. This guidance should:

a)be developed with disabled people;

b)explicitly address the needs of all disabled people, including but not limited to people who are blind and partially sighted, people who have ambulant mobility difficulties and people with a neuro-diverse condition or learning disability;

c)lay down consistent national standards so that disabled people can navigate, learn and independently use such schemes anywhere in the country;

d)be clear that safety and usability requirements, such as controlled crossings and kerbs, are not optional;

e)Provide details on how the requirements of the public sector equality duty and the duty to make reasonable adjustments apply to the design and implementation of such schemes.

182.Adequate guidance is important, but individuals also need an accessible means to challenge decisions when such guidance is not adhered to. We recommend that the Government bring forward Regulations under section 22(2)(a) of the Equality Act 2010 to specify that organisations which fail to comply with the new guidance recommended above will not be considered to have taken reasonable steps for purposes of the duty to make reasonable adjustments. This will make it easier for disabled individuals to establish discrimination contrary to section 21 of the Equality Act 2010.

183.The Government should also ensure that advice is readily available for individuals on how to challenge local authorities on existing or new schemes which exclude or have the potential to exclude disabled people.

243 House of Lords Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability, Report of Session 2015–16, The Equality Act 2010: the impact on disabled people HL Paper 17

244 Q159

245 Department for Communities and Local Government (DBE0124)

246 Department for Transport, Shared space (LTN 1/11) (October 2011)

247 Department for Transport, Shared space (LTN 1/11) (October 2011)

248 Department for Transport, Shared space (LTN 1/11) (October 2011)

249 Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in the UK (DBE0180)

250 Ben Hamilton-Baillie (DBE0067)

251 Ben Hamilton-Baillie (DBE0067)

252 Urban Design Group (DBE0158)

253 IBI Group (DBE0115)

254 Urban Design Group (DBE0158)

255 IBI Group (DBE0115)

256 Ken Miles (DBE0141)

257 Marianne Scullion (DBE0174)

258 Guide Dogs Ashford (DBE0072)

259 Jane Sellers (DBE0171)

260 Victor Jackson (DBE0163); Annex 1: Notes of Committee Outreach Events

261 Annex 1: Notes of Committee Outreach Events (Birmingham)

262 RNIB (DBE0110)

263 Mrs Susan Davies (DBE0023) — an individual who works with teenagers with moderate learning disabilities including autism

264 Guide Dogs (DBE0114); RNIB (DBE0110); Centre for Accessible Environments (DBE0102)

265 Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in the UK (DBE0180)

266 Michael Broderick (DBE0179)

267 Marianne Scullion (DBE0174)

268 Barbara Walker (DBE0166)

269 Josie Iles (DBE0155)

270 Gill Sheppard (DBE0154)

271 Ken Miles (DBE0141)

273 Thomas Pocklington Trust (DBE0123), Q19 (Sue Bott, Disability Rights UK), Inclusion London (DBE0097), Guide Dogs (DBE0114)

274 Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DBE0055)

275 Department for Transport, Shared space (LTN 1/11) (October 2011)

276 Roger Cannon (DBE0167); David Hunter (DBE0019); Victor Jackson (DBE0163)

277 Q160

278 Q168

279 Lord Holmes of Richmond (DBE0073); National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom, Leeds Branch (DBE0038); Margaret Hutchison (DBE0164); Janice Long (DBE0140); Sarah Gayton (DBE0184); Bradford and District Strategic Disability Partnership (DBE0139); Guide Dogs (DBE0114)

281 House of Lords Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability, Report of Session 2015–16, The Equality Act 2010: the impact on disabled people HL Paper 17

282 British Standards Institution’s (BSI) Committee B/559 – Access to buildings for disabled people (DBE0084)

283 Leicester Disabled Peoples Access Group (DBE0131)

284 IBI Group (DBE0115)

285 Department for Communities and Local Government (DBE0124)

286 Minister for Women and Equalities, Government Response to the House of Lords Select Committee Report on The Equality Act 2010: The impact on disabled people, Cm 9283, July 2016

287 Q187

288 Q181 (Lord Holmes of Richmond; Andrew Hugill)

24 April 2017