Leicester City Council - taking an inclusive approach to town planning

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Leicester City Council - taking an inclusive approach to town planning *

Summary: There are some planning issues of significance that affect disabled people and people with restricted mobility that do not impact as much on non-disabled people, such as 'shared space' street schemes, the removal of tactile paving, dropped kerbs and of course highway infrastructure such as street furniture. Leicester City Council acted on disabled people's complaints about regeneration of the city centre in 2006. Crucially the Disability Equality Duty (DED) helped focus the council's efforts. Councillors and officers ensured inclusive design principles were reflected in the council's core strategy for land use and planning. Leicester established an Inclusive Design Advisory Panel, guided by disabled people, which worked to prevent any potential discriminatory effects of a redeveloped city centre. They tackled increased walking distances from blue badge parking spaces and cycling in pedestrianised spaces. It is thanks to this work, with the duty a useful instrument in guiding the council's actions, that the city’s public realm is now fit for purpose and accessible.

Action taken: Between 2006 and 2008 a number of changes were made to Leicester city centre to expand and improve its pedestrian area. Concerns were expressed that a number of these changes would have an adverse effect on people with disabilities – for example, by increasing walking distances to shops and reducing or re-locating blue badge parking spaces. In addition, the Audit Commission stated that the City Council ought to be securing a high standard of access for disabled people through its planning powers, rather than requiring minimum standards. Responding to these concerns, and in order to meet their obligations under the DED Leicester City Council developed two key partnership projects with Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL) and with Vista, a voluntary sector organisation supporting blind and partially sighted people. The objectives were to

  1. Provide a source of advice on planning and designing schemes to improve access for disabled people, and
  2. Raise awareness and understanding of inclusive design amongst city council officers and councillors responsible for projects.

The Council facilitated the Disabled Persons Access Group to ensure that disability groups and disabled people got involved in activities, such as consultation exercises, as well as running the Inclusive Design Advisory Panel (IDAP) which advised the council planners on the implications of their plans on disabled people. This provides the Council with advice on inclusive design matters and highlights the implications projects have for disabled people. IDAP is chaired by a Councillor who has a keen interest in inclusive design, and is involved in the Council’s scrutiny role. IDAP’s role complements that of the Leicester Disabled People’s Access Group (LDPAG), which is an independent organisation representing disabled people rather than a specialist advisory panel.

The second initiative, run in partnership with Vista, is the Access Awareness Event programme. This is an on-going project to increase awareness and understanding of inclusive design amongst all those responsible for planning, designing and managing the city’s streets and spaces.

Outcome: All major planning and design projects now come to IDAP and the panel aims to get involved with projects from the earliest stages. This enables inclusive design issues to be picked up at the outset, rather than arising later on down the line, when it can be too late and too costly to rectify them. The IDAP enables disabled people to take a more pro-active role at the planning stage, to help prevent issues from arising later on down the line.

Inclusive design is about good decision making (at all levels), in order to ‘get it right first time’. Having good policies and procedures is really important, but decision makers need to have some understanding of a) what an inaccessible environment feels like to a disabled person, and b) how this can be improved.The Access Awareness Events programme complements the role of IDAP by helping to achieve this better understanding.

 


* Source: Joint response to the Government's Review of the Public Sector Equality Duty from a group of disability charities and disabled people’s organisations including: Action Disability Kensington and Chelsea, Action on Hearing Loss, Disability Rights UK, Inclusion London, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Mind, National AIDS Trust, Royal National Institute of Blind People, Scope and Sense [2013]