Shared Space – Why the Fuss?
In July, the Department for Transport (DfT) called a pause to all development schemes featuring streets with level surfaces, issuing the following statement:
« While we consider CIHT and DPTAC’s recommendations and how to take them forward, we are requesting that local authorities pause any shared space schemes incorporating a level surface they are considering, and which are at the design stage. We are also temporarily suspending Local Transport Note 1/11. This pause will allow us to carry out research and produce updated guidance. »
This note summarises both sides of the debate and the positions taken by key stakeholders.
Shared space schemes were initially designed to blur or remove the separation of footway and carriageway, with the idea that drivers would modify their behaviour to accommodate pedestrians. The intention is to achieve safer, high-quality places where pedestrians and cyclists could move more freely without requiring dedicated facilities.
However, with this removal of separation between pedestrians and vehicles, unexpected difficulties affecting vulnerable people groups have arisen. The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) in a June 2018 report argues that certain disabled people such as the blind or partially-sited, the neuro-diverse, those with learning disabilities and other mental health conditions rely on regular, consistent behaviour enforced by the clear division between footway and carriageway. A ‘free-for-all’ environment does not suit their needs as this clear distinction is removed. For example, courtesy crossings often require eye contact between pedestrian and driver. This is clearly not possible for blind people and may be difficult for those with learning disabilities and other conditions where making eye contact can be uncomfortable. Wayfinding in shared space environments can also be a problem for some people, such as young children, the elderly, non-locals and the visually impaired who may rely on guide dogs who are not trained to navigate level surface streets.
Despite the points made by DPTAC, the suspension of shared space schemes has not gone without criticism from their supporters. The Home Builders Federation have responded to the DfT, stating that the temporary pausing of shared space schemes is unnecessarily holding up residential development which includes lightly-used streets or parking areas featuring level surface designs. The Federation considers that the concerns outlined by organisations such as the DPTAC relate primarily to public spaces like those found within town centres, rather than schemes on quiet residential streets where traffic is much less frequent.
The Urban Design Group suggests that around 20% of master planners and urban designers have been contacted by a Local Planning Authority to remove shared space surfaces in order to replace them with conventional streets featuring footways and kerbs to clearly separate vehicles and pedestrians. This has been estimated to contribute to the elimination of up to 20% of homes in some developments, or the reduction of gardens, street trees and other landscaping initiatives. It is likely that this will have knock-on effects on Section 106 agreements, viability calculations and affordable housing provision.
In addition, following the DfT’s statement, there have been calls for street design to be devolved to local level rather than shared centrally between DfT and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, indicating further discontentment from the lack of clarity regarding shared space schemes.
The government has since responded to the concerns raised, stating:
« The pause does not apply to streets within new residential areas, or the redesign of existing residential streets with very low levels of traffic, such as appropriately designed mews and cul-de-sacs, which take into account the relevant aspects of the National Planning Policy Framework and associated guidance. »
In addition, the pause on shared space schemes does not apply to those at the planning application stage or further. The MCHLG intends to review national planning practice guidance to sit alongside the revised National Planning Policy Framework, which will be published in due course.
SYSTRA accepts that shared space schemes are not a ‘one-size fits all’ solution and therefore have both benefits and drawbacks to the end user. We have previously been involved with the design, accessibility and audit elements of projects involving shared space schemes, such as the Wembley Park Masterplan and the Manydown Urban Extension in Basingstoke. We are therefore experienced in handling the challenges that they present in a variety of development scheme types and sizes, and can help you navigate the increasingly complex issues of shared space.