Saturday, 1 September 2012

Cllr Chris Robbins: making life worse for people with disabilities

Waltham Forest council under its leader Councillor Chris Robbins has recently managed to waste an astonishing £21 million on an “Olympic legacy” which is comprehensively car-centric and which can only serve to perpetuate the borough’s catastrophic failure as a cycling borough. More on all that another day (although for an example which glancingly invokes a pretend concern for people with disabilities read this).

For today let me demonstrate how the leader of Waltham Forest council’s pathological obsession with filling up every possible inch of carriageway and footway space with cars impacts on wheelchair users.

I spotted this situation yesterday while cycling along the A112 (the main north-south transport spine in the borough and one deeply hostile to cycling).

Because it is partly placed adjacent to a wall around a tree, this parking bay on Browns Road close to the junction with the A112 allows the footway user less than a metre of clear footway space (in fact just 800mm).

The driver of this 4X4 (below) has done nothing wrong. The vehicle is parked very slightly beyond the side parking bay markings but not far enough to merit a fixed penalty notice. Waltham Forest council has quite deliberately turned this footway into a parking space and it has done so in a way that makes free passage for wheelchair users impossible. Any passing driver can park here and there is no charge.

This by the way is in a 20 mph zone, underlining the point that though they are effective in reducing deaths and injuries from collisions there is in principle nothing intrinsically beneficial about 20 mph zones in terms of civilising streets, making them more attractive for cycling and walking, or in reducing the hegemony of the car.

The Highways Agency regards two metres as the recommended minimum footway width for wheelchair users “under normal circumstances”.

Where there are unavoidable physical constraints 1.5 metres is “the minimum acceptable under most circumstances”.

 “The absolute minimum, where there is an obstacle should be 1000mm clear space.”

See the national guidelines here (page 16, section 3.1.2).

But what are national guidelines on meeting the needs of wheelchair users to someone like Cllr Robbins? The next issue of the council’s massively subsidised propaganda sheet is certain to contain yet another colour photograph of Cllr Robbins beaming complacently as he is shown supporting the Paralympics. As always, no substance, just spin.

At a national level it is worth bearing in mind that as politicians of all parties line up during the Paralympics to posture as friends of those with a physical disability, there is still no statutory protection which would ensure an obstruction-free footway for people with a mobility handicap.

There is still nothing in British law which makes it unlawful for a council to act as Waltham Forest council has done here. There are only “guidelines” which any local authority can flout at will, putting the motorist before the pedestrian with a mobility handicap, as has happened on Browns Road. The guidelines depend on councillors caring about the needs of wheelchair users etc. In the London Borough of Waltham Forest they don’t, and prefer to put the able-bodied motorist first.


These are not the only national Guidelines which Waltham Forest council and Cllr Robbins choose to ignore.