What Can I Do About Shared Spaces

What Can I Do About Shared Spaces

Street furniture - Quick Wins for Local Authorities

How local authorities can work with blind and partially sighted people to build a better future based on RNIB's Quick wins and missed opportunities report, June 2012.

What is street furniture?

Street furniture is a term that covers a range of permanent fixtures that are present on pavements, and includes:

  • Posts, poles and bollards
  • Waste paper bins
  • Low level signs
  • Seating

Street furniture is installed for practical reasons but it can also have an aesthetic purpose too. However, it can present blind and partially sighted pedestrians with problems that are not immediately apparent to other people.

So what's the problem?

It is essential for many people including blind and partially sighted people to have a clear route along a pavement. The proliferation of street furniture presents blind and partially sighted people with additional objects to negotiate round.

Street furniture causes problems when it is poorly located, overused, or when the furniture itself is hard to see or detect properly with a white cane. In these cases it can become a hazard and increase the risk of significant collisions that result in injury.

Every pedestrian collision matters because it contributes to the sense of adversity and this affects a person's mobility by undermining confidence.

Street furniture and best practice guidance

Best practice guides set out by the Department for Transport (DfT) emphasise the importance of consultation and inclusion of disabled people when planning to introduce street furniture. Their 'Inclusive Mobility' guidelines state:

'Street furniture can cause problems for both wheelchair users and for people who are visually impaired. It is essential, taking account of heritage issues, to consider both the positions of any furniture and the means of making it apparent to people with reduced vision…posts, poles bollards etc should be positioned to leave clear width…it helps visually impaired people if, within an area, the positioning of posts etc is consistent and away from general lines of movement' It also stresses that:

'Colour contrasted bands on poles and colour contrast on the tops of bollards will help partially sighted people'.

Recent case law such as Mohsen Ali v London borough of Newham suggests that local authorities are expected to give proper consideration to authoritative guidance, such as best practice set out by the DfT.

Street Furniture and the Law

Equality Act

Under the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for service providers and those exercising public functions, including highways functions, to discriminate against disabled people. This includes a duty not to indirectly discriminate and to make reasonable adjustments where existing arrangements place a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage. A failure by a Highways Authority to consider the needs of disabled people when positioning street furniture, thereby creating unnecessary obstacles, places blind and partially sighted people at a particular (substantial) disadvantage and is therefore likely to breach the Equality Act.

Public Sector Equality Duty

As a public authority, local authorities are subject to the Public Sector Equality Duty andare required to have 'due regard' to equality outcomes in everything they do. In particular, the authorities are required to ensure that it eliminates discrimination, advances equality of opportunity and fosters good relations between, amongst others, disabled and non-disabled people.

Undertaking an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) at the initial stages of planning a scheme which introduces street furniture, by a local authority is one way of demonstrating 'due regard'.The EIA should be used to determine how a proposed scheme would affect different groups and highlight any negative impacts. In the light of an EIA's findings, the local authority should seek to promote equality by addressing issues raised.

Access Forums

Local Access Forums enable an authority to consult with disabled people s.94 (5) of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 requires the Council to have regard, in carrying out their functions, to take advice given to them by the Local Access Forum. Where one does not formally exist in an area the Act requires the local authority to set one up.

Quick Wins for local authorities

Local authorities should embed accessibility into everything they do; including the provision and installation of street furniture.

Local authorities should:

  • Engage and consult the local community. It is essential, right from the beginning of the process. Rather than present the public with pre-defined options, planners should ensure prompt and sustained engagement with the people who walk the neighbourhood daily, to discover what they really want their streets to be like. This especially includes groups representing older people, children, and disabled people. A proactive communications strategy that aims to grow the numbers of blind and partially sighted people actively engaged and contributing their view should be pursued throughout the entire process.
  • Undertake a street audit as part of the planning process. Street audits enable the identification and mapping of existing features which blind and partially sighted people may know and use in their navigation, including street furniture and the position of lighting, helping designers use this information to produce inclusive designs most appropriate in the local context.
  • Undertake an Equality Impact Assessment at the initial planning stage. The EIA should be used to determine how a proposed scheme or installation of street furniture would affect different groups and highlight any negative impacts. In the light of an EIA's findings, the local authority should seek to promote equality by addressing any issues raised.
  • Monitor pedestrians’ experiences on an on-going basis and right from the commencement of the scheme or installation of new street furniture, feeding data into the evaluation processes.
  • Evaluate the performance of schemes and installations thoroughly, to ensure that they facilitate blind and partially sighted road users, and do not unduly discriminate against any user group. Groups consulted at the outset should be involved in the evaluation processes.

Note, where a local authority does not complete an Equality Impact Assessment, they should provide evidence of how they have had 'due regard' and considered equality in their planning process.

For more information contact your local RNIB campaigns team

RNIB have Regional Campaign Officers all over England (and campaigns teams in Wales and Scotland).

Telephone: 020 7391 2123