Question marks over future of Preston's shared space

Fishergate
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The future of “shared space” schemes - including Preston’s Fishergate - have been called into question after the Government called for a halt on new developments.

The Government yesterday ordered all local authorities “pause on the installation of shared space schemes incorporating a level surface”.

The Department of Transport has also withdrawn its guidance note on the oft-controversial spaces - where vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists have equal priority - pending the results of new research.

It means Lancashire County Council is facing renewed pressure to redesign its controversial “shared space” on Preston’s main shopping street Fishergate - even though this is a four year old development and has small kerbs.

But UCLan’s new shared scheme at Adelphi Square will continue, the university has said, despite doubts over the future of all such projects.

UCLan say their plans were developed following wide-spread consultation.

County council chiefs say Fishergate already has a range of measures to support disabled pedestrians.

Calls for local change came after the publication of the Department of Transport’s new Inclusive Transport Strategy.

Sarah Gayton, shared space coordinator of the National Federation of The Blind of the UK (NFBUK), called for immediate action from the county council and said her charity would help to find a solution.

“The Government has to honour its commitment to ‘Time For Change’ to make funds available for the local authorities to get these town centres back accessible for all,” she said.

The Fishergate scheme has been dubbed a no-go area for the blind, visually impaired and disabled following its introduction.

Despite some changes it is still regarded as unacceptable by the NFBUK.

Sarah said: “They have to do a U-turn on Fishergate now. The local authority can’t hide behind any words that it has to wait for new legislation. It has to act - there’s a public sector equality duty that says councils have to continually improve services for disabled people.

“We are willing to work with them and other local charities and organisations for disabled people to make sure we have urgent action on sorting Fishergate out.”

Local charity Galloway’s Society For The Blind has also called on the county council to take action on Fishergate.

Chief executive officer Stuart Clayton said: “The public realm also needs to be accessible for disabled people which means putting a stop to the development of ‘shared space’ schemes or other such schemes that do not recognise or acknowledge the challenges facing disabled people.

“It is unacceptable that visually impaired people feel there are parts of Preston town centre that are ‘no go areas’. The removal of controlled crossing points in existing and new schemes is a significant barrier for disabled people when accessing key areas of the city.”

He continued: “It is pleasing to see that part of the strategy recommends that all local authorities pause the development of shared space schemes. However, this is only a recommendation and we are concerned that local government has the opportunity to ignore this recommendation. We would like to see central government instructing local government to call a halt to the development of dangerous shared space schemes and those schemes which mirror the fundamental principles of ‘shared space’.

“We have and continue to work with Lancashire County Council to ensure that Lancashire is a county proud of its approach to developing an inclusive environment served by an inclusive transport network. We can only hope that LCC use this as an opportunity to address the issues raised regarding the Fishergate shared space scheme and the potential issues already highlighted with the new UCLAN development.”

However, the charity said the strategy was a positive step.

The RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) said: “Whilst we are undoubtedly pleased the Government has called a halt on dangerous shared space schemes, the strategy isn’t clear on what will happen after it is paused and how council’s will fund developments to retrofit the problems with existing shared space schemes. While the aims are positive, do people with sight loss really have to wait for over a decade to see real change?”

It continued: “The Department for Transport will need to act rapidly to fill in the details on how their ambition will be achieved to address the continued uncertainty around key issues such as shared space.”