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The Minister's accessory of choice is just that, an accessory; it will be of little use in completing his task. If he chooses the stick it will be of little value because the shared space is flat-the pavement is flush with the road-and no amount of tapping will help to orientate him. If he chooses the dog, it will be next to useless, as it has been trained to stop at a pavement edge-but there is none. So we set the Minister down, 20 yards from the crossing, point him in the right direction and tell him, "Off you go, you are on your own", but he is not on his own, is he? He will encounter lorries, buses, vans, cars, motorbikes, push bikes and a plethora of pedestrians crossing his path. If the Minister accepted that challenge, how would he feel? No doubt he would feel anxious and apprehensive; I certainly would. It would be like playing Russian roulette. The Minister might-we all hope that he would-survive his ordeal, but some who are blind or disabled may have to undertake that ordeal twice a day to get to work, school or the shops. That stressful task may put them off using the shared space at all, and they may choose a long detour rather than run the risk.

As the noble Lord, Lord Low, just told us, in a survey, in 44 per cent of replies from the blind, they said that they would go out of their way to avoid those schemes. We must make sure that we do not exclude a section of society by our lack of thought in planning.

The Minister can relax: we are not really going to make him run the gauntlet, but I have one or two questions to ask him. Before I do that, I hope that I have not offended anyone with my rather light-hearted challenge to him. The intention was to bring to those of us with good sight the stark reality of the problems that blind people must overcome daily. We have little or no comprehension of their problems with everyday tasks which we take for granted. Of all the senses to live without, sight must be the most difficult. The noble Lord, Lord Low, in his opening remarks convincingly described some of the difficulties encountered. I do not plan to repeat his arguments, but when planning for these shared spaces, we really should think more carefully.

Now to my questions. Has the Minister considered new textures and colouring schemes to help to differentiate the road from pedestrian areas, as has already been

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suggested? Has he considered the Guide Dogs for the Blind idea for a 60 millimetre kerb to act as a guiding device, as my noble friend Lord Jenkin said? More importantly, how will the Minister ensure that the planners of those schemes also consider those points? The Department for Transport report states that shared space schemes,

I have a difficulty with that statement, because I thought that the whole point of them was to make vehicles slow down and pay greater attention to other road users, therefore putting safety very much on the agenda.

The Government themselves have acknowledged that there are gaps in their data on safety and that the schemes may pose difficulties for blind and partially sighted people. They have also announced that they have begun a research project on how to make shared-surface streets work for all road users. Can we be updated on what that will involve, its progress so far, and when the research will be completed?

I look forward to the Minister's response to my questions and others raised in this debate-in particular, the question of whether the Government intend to request local authorities not to introduce more schemes until their research on shared space is concluded.

7.34 pm

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this fascinating debate this evening, especially the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, who has such a magnificent record in pursuing matters of concern to disabled people and whom I congratulate on initiating this debate. He is a distinguished leader of the RNIB, an organisation with which the Department for Transport has had a constructive working relationship over many years. Indeed, the consultancy arm of the RNIB is part of the contractor's team currently working on our shared-space project. I thank him for giving me this opportunity to explain our position on shared-surface streets today.

We attach a great deal of importance to the travel needs of disabled people and we are determined to deliver an inclusive transport network that is accessible to everyone. Over the past three or four decades, the department has promoted improvements ranging from dropped kerbs and tactile paving to audio announcements on buses and trains, for example. It has long appreciated the importance of inclusivity in design and provision. Work currently under way will result in comprehensive guidance on the design and provision of shared space, which includes shared-surface streets. We involve interested parties in guidance preparation and have a wide range of stakeholders, including Guide Dogs for the Blind and representatives of other disabled groups, working with us on the shared-space project.

In February 2009, we commenced the current two-year research project on shared space-to answer the noble Earl's question, it will be completed in 2011-and an appraisal report was published on the department's website on 19 November 2009. The appraisal report concluded:

"From the data available, there is no evidence that Shared Space schemes, including those with level surfaces, as implemented

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in the UK have more casualties than conventional layouts, or that particular groups, including disabled people, are injured more frequently following their introduction".

The noble Lord, Lord Low, said that this did not support the safety case. We are not claiming that these schemes improve safety, although emerging anecdotal evidence suggests that they may do so. Shared space is essentially an initiative to improve the quality of life for everyone. He asked particularly about near misses. These are not recorded so I cannot comment authoritatively on them. However, among road users generally, sometimes the closeness of a near miss is exaggerated as time passes. I do not underestimate their importance and the degree of alarm that an apparent near miss can cause to disabled people, particularly to blind people.

I stress that the appraisal report is not the last word on the subject but we believe that its conclusions were entirely reasonable given the data that were available to the researchers. We will be collecting and evaluating additional data as they become available and this will feed into the final guidance.

In his excellent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Low, claimed that accident data are a bit of a blunt tool for assessing these schemes. However, it is the best that we have and it is likely to be a more reliable indicator than focus group surveys, for example. Over the past few years, Guide Dogs has repeatedly claimed that shared-surface streets pose a particular danger to visually impaired people, partly because of the supposed need for making eye contact with drivers before crossing the road. This was mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Low and Lord Addington. The appraisal considered the eye contact issue and determined that there is no convincing data that eye contact is used predominantly as a means of communication between drivers and pedestrians. For example, it is often impossible for pedestrians to see through windscreens and into vehicles. Given the lack of certainty with which drivers and pedestrians can establish eye contact, it would be highly improbable that drivers rely on it. The report concluded that drivers appear to base their intended actions primarily on actual or anticipated pedestrian behaviour rather than on direct communication.

When we point out that we have no firm evidence to suggest that shared surfaces are any less safe than conventional streets, Guide Dogs and speakers in today's debate claim that this is because visually impaired people avoid these areas. Guide Dogs also says that shared surfaces are dangerous for people with hearing difficulties, people with learning difficulties, other disabled people, older people and children. We have considered this but we have been unable to find any documentary evidence that might substantiate claims of increased danger to any of these user groups. In addition, it seems very unlikely that people in these groups are failing to show up in accident statistics because they avoid shared space.

During the appraisal stage, views on shared space were gathered from a range of user types, including disabled people and those described as "frail older", which I suspect might include some Members of your Lordships' House. This was a random sample of people using shared space and was designed to provide a snapshot of views in a variety of settings. Of the

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55 people interviewed, eight were disabled, one of whom had a visual impairment. Six of the eight were unaccompanied, including the person with the visual disability. Incidentally, across the sample, participants tended to be either in favour of shared-space schemes or broadly neutral. The noble Lord, Lord Low, commented on the fact that only eight people were disabled. However, I respectfully point out to him that eight out of 55 broadly matches the proportion of disabled people in the national population.

We are aware that Guide Dogs enlisted the support of a number of organisations in its call for a ban on shared surfaces. However, there is a considerable amount of duplication of interest among these signatories and many represent the needs of visually impaired people. We do not complain about that but it is necessary that that is understood. It is also interesting to note that a number of the other charities listed represent the interests of certain disabled people who, it was found during the appraisal, welcomed the ability to travel through a step-free environment, and wheelchair users were a notable example.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I am listening to the noble Lord with extreme care and he is obviously doing his best to reply to the debate. However, does he think that Guide Dogs has invented its fears? Does he think that it is doing this simply in order to give its public relations people something to do?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: Of course not, my Lords. I do not say that for one moment. It is a highly respected and very valuable organisation. However, we take the view that its point of view is not shared by disabled groups generally and that the fears it is expressing about shared spaces are, in the main, unjustified. If the noble Lord will allow me, I shall continue and perhaps give him some comfort in what I say in a moment.

Until now, I have spoken about safety by referring mainly to statistical evidence. However, safety is not just about statistics; people need to feel safe to be comfortable in these environments. Perception of safety may not be a reliable indicator of actual risk but it is important and can have a significant impact on people's lives. We do not intend to ignore this.

The main output from our research project will be comprehensive guidance on the design and provision of shared space. A major strand of this will be devoted to the provision of travel training for disabled people, including visually impaired people, and older people who may lack the confidence to make journeys outside unaccompanied. Such training will benefit people in areas without shared spaces, so our guidance will cover conventional streets too.

The noble Lords, Lord Low, Lord Crisp and Lord Jenkin, asked whether we will require local authorities to refrain from implementing shared-surface schemes until the research concludes. It is difficult to see how a ban on shared surfaces could be justified in the light of what I have said about safety and about the way that we intend to address the issues. To discourage their introduction would be to deny people the advantages. The noble Lord, Lord Best, in his very welcome

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introduction, referred to some of those advantages and, indeed, particularly mentioned his own knowledge of the Netherlands.

The appraisal report on shared space concluded:

"It is clear that in certain situations, Shared Space schemes using level surfaces deliver practical benefits over those with kerbs".

It seems highly unlikely that the report's main conclusions, which I have quoted today, will change materially between now and completion of this work. Indeed, the appraisal report essentially represents the research conclusions for this project and gives all of us a clear steer on the way forward with shared space. However, should additional evidence come to light as work progresses that suggests that our current approach needs to be amended or even reversed, we will of course take that into account and act accordingly. I am happy to give the noble Lords, Lord Low and Lord Jenkin of Roding, that commitment today.

Designing public places almost inevitably involves accommodating conflicting aims to ensure that schemes reflect a reasonable balance of the needs of all users. While shared space appears to work well for most people, we understand how it can cause difficulties for some.

I should refer to the stance taken by the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee. It issued a statement on shared space last month that welcomed the programme of work being undertaken by the department, and expressed its commitment to work with us. I should mention that the DPTAC representative is himself visually disabled.

It is worth noting that shared space is not new. Shared surfaces have been used in residential areas for many years. Exeter High Street, for example, was redesigned as a shared space around 30 years ago, and many rural settlements, medieval villages and historic streets throughout the UK have always had a shared surface. I am drawing attention to the fact that shared space has been around for some time to show how use of the technique long predates the relatively recent

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claims that it presents a danger to so many people. Honestly, if shared space really were as perilous as has been claimed, we would have been aware of a problem decades ago.

I shall comment on one or two of the points that were made which I have not already referred to. The noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to tactile paving. Research from Transport for London shows that the 800-millimetre-wide corduroy pattern is effective, but tactile paving is not always necessary; it is largely absent in home zones, for example. Still, we consider that our tactile paving guidance is not perfect-we admit that-and it could benefit from simplification. We would like to look at that in future.

The issue of kerbs, to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred in particular, is a tricky one. Guide Dogs insists that kerbs are essential, but we would like the organisation to accept that there are other ways for visually impaired people to navigate, such as building lines and street furniture. That is something that our guidance will look into, and if it is necessary to change the guidance then we will do so.

The Government have no preference for shared space over conventional layouts, but we have a desire to ensure that the technique remains available as an option for designers who are looking to improve public spaces. We understand why visually impaired people and others can find shared-space schemes, especially those with shared surfaces, intimidating. I am willing, provided that it is not turned into a PR gimmick, to undertake the challenge that the noble Earl put to me, on the understanding that he comes with me and takes part at the same time as I do.

Our intention is to overcome these concerns through promoting good practice in design and provision. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Low, and all other noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate that our priority is to assist all disabled people, and that our research is heavily geared towards their needs and doing the very best that we can for them.

Committee adjourned at 7.48 pm.

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