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Disability: Manual for Streets

Volume 688: debated on Thursday 18 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What account they propose to take, in the forthcoming Manual for Streets, of (a) the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association’s research on shared surfaces; and (b) the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee’s research on home zones.

My Lords, we are aware of both research projects, neither of which has been completed, which are investigating “shared surface” schemes. The Manual for Streets project team took account of concerns of both organisations when formulating general guidance on shared surfaces and other design techniques for residential streets. It will emphasise the importance of ensuring that designs do not present barriers to disabled people. The manual will not advocate the widespread introduction of shared surfaces.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, in order to comply with the disability equality duty laid on public authorities by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 as well as their obligations under that Act in relation to highway functions, will he see to it that central and local government ensure that the design, development and monitoring of streetscape and public space schemes, including those that follow the “shared space” concept, take full account of the needs of disabled people? I notice the Minister said that central and local government will broadly take account of the needs of disabled people as far as possible, or words to that effect. I would like to hear a more fulsome assurance from him that they will take complete account of the needs of disabled people. Will he ensure that those responsible for such schemes consult with disability organisations at all stages in the process of developing our streets and public spaces?

My Lords, I can certainly give that last assurance. It would be a denial of the whole concept of the development of the Manual for Streets if we failed to take into account the needs of the disabled. The project is designed so that on certain streets in the centre of urban areas, predominantly, a hierarchy should be created in which pedestrians and the disabled are rated highly and that cyclists and motor traffic recognise the significant needs of those groups.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the council in Westminster, where I have a home in London, consults on any new street scheme? I am pleased to say that the street I live in has responded and is providing, in the improvements, disabled access at both ends, whereas previously access was only at one end. Will the Minister, for the benefit of those like myself—I declare an interest as I have a disabled family member—define “shared services” and “home zones”?

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s assertion that a local authority is concerned to improve its street schemes for the benefits of disabled people. Shared services relate to those schemes which provide no hard delineation or segregation between services used by pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles. In some of our town centres, these services are now shared without a delineated pavement, but the presumption—indeed, the injunction—is that motorised traffic is aware of the priority over it given to pedestrians and others.

Home zones are an attempt within residential areas to increase the priority of pedestrians so that we make the environment more user-friendly for them, given that in recent decades massive priority has been given to motorised traffic.

My Lords, I am delighted to follow my good friend Lord Low and share his appreciation of my noble friend the Minister’s reply. Can my noble friend say what consideration has been given to ensuring that professional bodies, such as architects and planners, take fully into account the needs of blind and other disabled people in innovative approaches to the design of streets and the urban environment? And since for them neglect in this policy area piles handicap on handicap, will Ministers be encouraging the adoption of good practice based on research findings?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, who has a long history of concerns about these matters. A great deal of this is governed by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 where it is enjoined on those who are constructing such environments to have due regard to the needs of the disabled. One would scarcely be a professional architect dealing with designs that in any way affect the disabled without being acutely aware of the statutory obligations. However, although it is important that professionals are aware of these requirements, at the end of the day, those who commission the professional work must take responsibility. In this case, it is overwhelmingly the responsibility of local authorities.

My Lords, is there any UK-wide monitoring of different road and pavement surfaces to ensure that every local authority in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England meets its obligations in this direction?

My Lords, monitoring in the way indicated by the noble Lord would suggest a very heavy hand indeed from the department; it does not work as stringently as that. However, the department is obliged to give advice on these matters—which is where its main power is in this regard. The Manual for Streets is an advisory note to local authorities on how they should guard the needs of pedestrians, particularly the disabled, in circumstances where there is no segregation between vehicle traffic and pedestrians. However, it is advisory and local authorities take responsibility. They do receive from the department clear guidance about the best way of approaching surfaces in these terms.

My Lords, given people’s clear concern that architects are properly briefed about the needs of the disabled, will the Minister reassure us that they are built into the training of architects?

My Lords, the training of architects is a little beyond my department. Suffice it to say that any trained architect who was not aware of the demands of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and the necessity of taking into account the needs of the disabled could not erect a building in this country and could not be involved in any public or even private space.