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The idea is that with the removal of these features, a more ambiguous environment is created which, being more difficult to interpret, and with the risk that pedestrians may be sharing the same space, encourages motorists to drive more cautiously and courteously. It is expected that priority in the shared-space area is negotiated, primarily through making eye contact.

It is obvious that such negotiation is impossible for those who are blind or partially sighted. To understand the full impact, we need also to recognise the importance of delineating the space that pedestrians use. Kerbs have traditionally been used for that purpose, and blind and partially sighted people use them to navigate and orientate themselves in our streets. They also have the confidence that, while on the pavement, they are relatively safe and out of the path of vehicles. When they want to cross the road, they look for controlled crossings, indicated by tactile paving, or they can seek the assistance of sighted pedestrians to use uncontrolled crossings.

With shared-surface streets there is no physical delineation. The kerb is gone, and if you cannot tell where the pavement ends and the road begins, how can you feel safe? The impact of shared-surface streets is to undermine the mobility and confidence of blind and partially sighted people. They are unable to use those spaces independently. In the worst case, people will now avoid those areas altogether, and so will be unable to access the shops and other services in their own town centre.

In focus group research carried out by Guide Dogs, blind and partially sighted people reported that they were concerned about the safety risk, the reduction in their independence and the lack of effective consultation

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with them as a user group. The research was carried out in both the UK and the Netherlands, where the shared space concept originated and where, we are told, it has been a success, but the experience and concerns of blind and partially sighted people in both countries were very similar. As one participant commented, "I do not enjoy going to town any more. I am stressed before getting there". In the 21st century, we should not be creating streetscapes that exclude our citizens in this way.

The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 introduced the disability equality duty. Local authorities are charged with promoting equality for disabled people. This also applies to the street environment and should ensure that streets are inclusively designed so that they are safe and accessible for all disabled people. Yet, in many of the shared-space schemes there has been no meaningful involvement of disabled people. In some cases, the local authority has not even produced a disability equality impact assessment either. This would suggest that the Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission need to do more to promote and enforce the law.

Guide Dogs has led a campaign to raise awareness of these issues and to call for a stop to the introduction of shared-space designs, at least until we have the results of research which the Government are carrying out. The campaign is supported by 38 other organisations representing not only blind and partially sighted people but those with learning difficulties, those who are deaf or hard of hearing and people with physical disabilities. The lack of delineation can make the streets more difficult to understand for a person with a learning disability. If you are a deaf person signing to a friend, it is easy to stray into traffic if there is no effective delineation. The disabled are not the only people affected. The shared-space environment is likely to be much more frightening for elderly people, and small children are told to stop at the kerb's edge, look and listen before crossing the road. How can they do that if there is not a kerb?

It is often argued that physically disabled people, particularly those who use wheelchairs, prefer a level space. It is certainly true that a level, well maintained surface is easier to negotiate, but that can surely be achieved in a scheme where there is adequate delineation through the installation of well designed dropped kerbs. My noble friend Lord Crisp will, I think, talk a bit more about safety but the first output from the Government's research suggests that there is no evidence one way or the other to support the safety case. While there may be fewer serious accidents, there may well be more near misses, and it is those near misses that undermine so seriously the confidence of vulnerable pedestrians and lead to them avoiding shared spaces altogether.

Guide Dogs has carried out two kinds of research-some into the views and experiences of blind and partially sighted people, and some into ways that shared-surface streets could be modified so as to retain the benefits without sacrificing the interests of blind and partially sighted people. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, will say a word about the Guide Dogs research but I want to say a word about the Government's

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research. I have already mentioned that the Government have commissioned their own research in response to representations made by Guide Dogs, with support from the National Federation of the Blind, the RNIB and others. Mention of the RNIB reminds me that I should declare an interest in this whole debate, both a personal one and an organisational one.

The aim of the two-year project that the Government have set up is to provide an evidence base for the production of guidance on how shared space can be made to work for all users, including disabled people. The guidance is due to be delivered in 2011 but the initial outputs do not suggest that the interests of disabled people are being adequately addressed. In the first phase of the work, only people who were using these spaces were interviewed. Of the 55 people interviewed, only eight were disabled and only one was visually impaired. What of the people who are no longer using the space? How are their views to be considered?

I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us this evening that the research will properly consider the impact on disabled people, particularly blind and partially sighted people. There is a great deal riding on this work and it is vital that they get it right. Blind and partially sighted people and other groups supporting the campaign against shared-surface streets are not opposed to improving the public realm or to the creation of well designed, aesthetically pleasing streets and spaces. What they want to see, however, is the achievement of those aims as part of inclusive designs that they, too, are able to enjoy alongside the rest of the general public.

The Government need to take a lead. Last year, they issued a letter to local authorities to tell them about their research. They need now to go one step further and to encourage local authorities not to introduce shared-space schemes until the research is concluded. We are still a way from seeing the Government's guidance. In the mean time, local authorities across the country continue to introduce new shared-space schemes. Some are small areas-such as Holbein Place outside Sloane Square tube station-and others are larger scale, including the plans for Exhibition Road and the redevelopment of part of Stratford-upon-Avon. Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money will be spent on creating shared-surface streets that will, at best, be difficult for disabled people to use and, in some cases, will be completely unusable by them.

Is this the legacy we want to leave? I suggest not. The Government need to do more to ensure that we have a truly accessible public realm that reflects the very best in inclusive design by catering for the diverse needs of all our citizens. The Government say that their position is one of neutrality. Benign neutrality would certainly be an improvement, but a stance of neutrality is not good enough in a situation where local authorities are charging ahead-without listening to anybody-with schemes that are putting vulnerable people at risk and making them afraid to go about their lawful business in the streets of our towns and cities. Neutrality favours the status quo and the powerful. The Government need to throw their weight into the scale behind those who lack power and whose interests are being ridden roughshod over by the planning juggernaut in order to counterbalance the powerful.

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7.07 pm

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, there is no one better than the noble Lord, Lord Low, to talk about this issue, particularly as it affects visually impaired people. He is to be congratulated on tabling his Motion and securing this debate today.

I speak as someone who spent 10 years on the council of Guide Dogs for the Blind. In the course of that period I helped to set up, and was the first chairman of, a body called the Visual Handicap Group. It was the first time that the major voluntary bodies for the blind had come together to co-ordinate their responses. Guide Dogs in the past had tended to be somewhat aloof but, by taking part in the Visual Handicap Group, it came very much into the centre of the picture.

The noble Lord, Lord Low, has set out many of the issues which arise when considering this problem. I had a long discussion with the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council to try to put these points to him and, although there was a certain amount of sympathy and so on, I found that I was up against a strongly held view that the shared streets and the visual improvements that they bring about are such strong drivers that they override everything else. When one considers Kensington High Street and, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, mentioned, Exhibition Road, one can understand what the council is aiming at. However, I find it strange that the main complaint the noble Lord, Lord Low, has had to make is that there has not been proper consultation with the bodies that represent the visually handicapped. The same is true of the other bodies affected by this change in the urban environment.

The noble Lord was talking about the issue: "Well, you're supposed to be able to make visual contact with the driver, the motorcyclist or whoever, so that you can manage to avoid each other". How do you train a guide dog to make visual contact with a car? Everyone knows that dogs always see their own reflections in glass. We have all had experience of that. It is a completely meaningless concept when applied to someone who is visually handicapped. The noble Lord, Lord Low, made that point clearly.

He suggested that I said a word about Guide Dogs' research. This is particularly important when you compare that research with people who use shared streets, rather than those who are shunning them. One of the respondents to the focus group research for Guide Dogs, when commenting on a scheme in Coventry, said:

"I simply keep away from this area-I stay away".

They do not feel safe. Without a kerb and without being able to see approaching traffic, it simply is not safe. In this day and age, it is very strange for a change to be promoted by local authorities which actually puts some of their more vulnerable citizens at risk of harm. Guide Dogs says-as, indeed, other noble Lords have said-that it is the absence of a kerb which has perhaps the most serious impact upon those who rely on sensory abilities, with a cane, dog or whatever, to know when they are possibly straying into the path of traffic. Guide Dogs' research has confirmed that for

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those with a visual handicap, the kerb is absolutely essential in helping them to get about.

A large amount of care, expense and trouble is devoted to helping people in wheelchairs to get about, using attachments on buses and all sorts of other things. Compare that with the absence of recognition that the kerb is such a vital feature of the urban scene. I find that very strange. Guide Dogs has found in its research that even if a kerb is only 50 millimetres, or roughly 2 inches, high, that makes all the difference if it enables blind people to continue to negotiate the street and feel safe.

I could go on but my time is up. This Question asks that there should be no more schemes, including those directed by the Government, until their research is complete. I wholeheartedly support that and hope that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, will accept that as a proper thing for Parliament to ask of the Government.

7.13 pm

Lord Crisp: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Low on this Question, not because I know a great deal about this particular topic, although I am chair of Sightsavers International. In that role, I have become more conscious of how simple and rather unthinking things disadvantage people with disabilities. We have an example here. There is not much to say because, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, it seems obvious that people need to rethink, look at what is happening and then decide how best to go ahead.

I am reminded of how often good ideas can have unintended consequences by something that I was familiar with in the National Health Service. It concerned road humps, called "sleeping policemen", which have been introduced to improve safety. The London Ambulance Service found them to be a major problem in terms of delivering its services. I very often saw the correspondence and the research, which argued that while overall they would reduce accidents and improve safety, unless they were placed in such a way as to support ambulance routes, one might have problems in terms both of the speed with which an ambulance reached its destination-with more lives or limbs being lost because of it-and of not being able to drive it as smoothly as one would want. When you introduce things before the consequences have been worked through-or when you do work through the consequences but do not rethink-you get into trouble that can be sustained over years. I happen to know that that argument with the London Ambulance Service has been going on around London for some years.

The proposal in the Question seems a very good idea. I am indebted to Guide Dogs for some examples of where shared space can and cannot work. Kensington High Street is said to be an example in practice. In that scheme, guard-railing has been removed, the street has been decluttered, cycle racks have been relocated to a central reservation and accident rates have fallen dramatically. However, Kensington High Street has maintained kerbs and controlled crossings; it is not a shared-surface street. Shared space can, it seems, be delivered without recourse to a shared-surface design, and that is the issue that we need to talk about.

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There is scheme in Ashford in Kent which incorporates both shared surface and kerbed sections. It has been much heralded in the design press but only recently the council has had to introduce large plastic blocks to reroute traffic and prevent parking, as well as to install signs to advise sighted pedestrians to look out for vehicles. It is being modified.

The other example that has been quoted by both the noble Lord, Lord Low, and Lord Jenkin, is the Holbein Place scheme by Sloane Square, which was introduced only last year and has already seen modifications. Modifications are a good thing if something is not working, but is there not scope here to learn? Is not that, as I understand it, the point of the review that the Government are conducting? Would it not be sensible to wait until that review is completed before local councils press on?

On safety, although it is clear from the statistics that accident rates have fallen dramatically in Kensington High Street in London, the sort of accidents we are talking about have not been designated, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, said. It may be the case that if cars are driving less fast, we are seeing less serious accidents, but there does not appear to be any count of people with disabilities or, as the noble Lord said, of how many near misses there are or how many people have avoided the area because of their worries about safety. There is not a clear picture about safety.

Let us think more widely about planning. People tend to plan on the basis of what is good for those who are-what is the right language?-normally abled, and then add on things for other people. Surely they should look at planning inclusively-for everyone in society-right from the start. We should not need to have this discussion about the interests of people who are blind or partially sighted after the event. Should that not have been what planning based on inclusivity and diversity was all about in the first place? I hope that the Minister will listen to the pleas from those of us in this Room and send to local authorities what seems a very simple message: why do you not wait for the evidence before you act further?

7.18 pm

Lord Best: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Low, for introducing this debate and for the opportunity to say a few words in the gap in proceedings. I have some experience from my role at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in supporting the pioneering work of creating so-called "home zones", where the pedestrian, not the car, is king. Barriers such as trees and benches make roads meander and confine cars to some 5 mph. I have four, brief comments to make.

First, the concept of making the car subservient to the pedestrian has endeavoured to make urban living more amenable, allowing children to play outside the home and people to socialise without worrying about the traffic. It aims to reduce accidents and prevent the need for those in wheelchairs or with mobility problems to worry about crossing the road safely. So far, these have proved popular and successful. I would not want the home zone concept to be threatened by new regulations.

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Secondly, I have experienced the shared public spaces that are so common in the Netherlands, Scandinavia and elsewhere in mainland Europe. These areas have civilised many town centres and side streets, and have become an important part of efforts to encourage older people not to move out of towns and cities to the country or the seaside.

Thirdly, I know that more than 20 years ago some of those who represented blind and partially sighted people were opposed to dropped kerbs, which have, in the end, proved popular with wheelchair users and people with other disabilities, as well as mothers with baby buggies and the rest of us. I do not think that consultation with the appropriate representative bodies at that time was very good, but when there was that consultation, a compromise was reached: tactile paving. This satisfied the requirements of those with visual impairments and was, in the end, to the satisfaction of all parties. It would seem important to agree on similar delineation of shared-surface streets. I understand that such delineation has been designed into the large-scale shared spaces of the Olympic village now in development. I hope the tactile lines being used there will satisfy those who are concerned about shared spaces so that we can achieve the best of all worlds here for all users in the future.

7.21 pm

Lord Addington: My Lords, this is one of those debates where you have not thought about the subject, but you look at it and say, "I can see that there is a problem". It is clear that the noble Lord, Lord Low, has pointed out something which seems to have been missed and, according to the DDA 2005, should have been taken into account. Something should have been done. We thought that planning would be taken on board when we discussed that Bill. Somebody somewhere has messed up in this process, but as we go over it in greater detail tonight is probably not the time to start the witch hunt.

As the noble Lord, Lord Best, has just pointed out, we can probably do this better and get some of the benefits. However, we will have to find a new way of looking at this type of problem to get such benefits. Two immediate ways come to mind. One is to invest in training for those who drive vehicles in these areas. That would be piecemeal, would take a long time to become effective and-as we know for all forms of training-will occasionally be forgotten. When people get cross or are late for something, they will revert to normal practice or drive badly. Some people simply drive badly; there are no two ways about it. The alternative is to put in some design features.

The noble Lord, Lord Low, has already pointed out that it may be that you cannot engage in this interaction or that you are going to do it badly. Anybody who has ever had a bad leg experiences how, when crossing roads, you do so at a different pace. You take your time; you may have to stop. A couple of periods on crutches taught me exactly how bad the London Underground is for disabled people far better than any textbook could have done. How will those people fit into this? If somebody is in a wheelchair, looking to make eye contact, there are certain vehicles that they

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will miss. The person who is not the norm has clearly not been properly taken into account in these schemes.

The only scheme that I can comment on is the one at Holbein Place, because I use it, sometimes in the company of my seven year-old daughter. It is not good. Grumpy drivers who are not used to coming round that corner find themselves having to brake suddenly. There have been one or two low-level impacts that I have seen. They will not appear because most people usually just swear at each other and move on, but they occurred. This type of occasion will give that area a bad reputation among certain groups, as has been pointed out.

We need more work here. At the least, an elaborate series of warnings must be established for both groups when they are going into these areas, and people must know what is happening when they are approaching them. Unless that happens, we are going to effectively disadvantage certain groups and make it more difficult for them to travel safely in these areas. It is a nice idea-it is one that I had not thought I would share, as someone who regards himself as still being able to do that quick run when someone comes up and does not stop and then slows down-but are we sure that we have got this right?

Can we please have some idea of the Government's thinking about how we develop this? How are we going to tackle this problem? If we do not, we are basically going to feed the lawyers at some point, and we will find ourselves with groups of people taking part in long-running campaigns. I have been involved in these matters in the past, and whoever is on the Treasury Bench gets a vaguely punch-drunk look about them as we come back to this issue again and again. I think we want to avoid that.

7.25 pm

Earl Cathcart: My Lords, I, too, thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Low, on introducing this debate. We on these Benches obviously support any measure that would improve road safety and make our urban roads a better environment for all users.

I thank my noble friend Lord Jenkin for contributing to this debate. I often find that we share many of the same topics of interest in this House but I did not expect him here today, so his contribution and expertise are doubly welcome.

Shared-space schemes mark a departure from conventionally designed streets because, as we have heard, they involve minimal use of traffic signs, road markings and other traffic management features. Instead, with no indication of priority or clear traffic management, motorists are encouraged to recognise the space as being different from a traditional road and to react by driving more slowly and responding to other road users, including pedestrians-a sort of free-for-all. By and large they work well, provided that you are fleet of foot and in command of all your faculties. For the deaf, the blind, the partially sighted, the very old and the very young or those with physical or mental difficulties they can be, and are, problematic.

Here I have a confession. When asked to speak in this debate, I quickly realised that I was out of my comfort zone. My confession is that I do not really think enough about transport and road planning, or

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those with disabilities. That is exactly the point that the noble Lord, Lord Low, is making in introducing this debate: not only should we all think more about this, but so should those planning these shared-space schemes.

When I was thinking what on earth I was going to say in this debate, I thought, "How would I feel if I was blind and was confronted with one of these shared-surface schemes?". I want to set the Minister a challenge: we take the Minister within 20 yards of one of these schemes, blindfold him and set him the task of walking up to the shared-space scheme and then crossing diagonally from one corner to the other. We will give the Minister the choice of one of two accessories: either a stick or a dog on a lead. By the way, as the Minister nears the shared space, there is no comfort zone where he can rest safely, collect his wits and pluck up courage before his ordeal.

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