Concerns raised over shared space concept

Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.
Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.

Members of the Northumberland (Low Vision) Action Group (NAG) have expressed their fears about a planned streetscape initiative in Morpeth that could be extended to other parts of the county.

The project in Stobhill, which is set to start later this year, will result in a new look for a key road crossing area that includes the junctions of Shields Road, Jobling Crescent, First Avenue and Third Avenue.

Northumberland County Council has said that will be using the scheme as a pilot for other areas to test the approach and similar potential projects are also being examined.

It will involve removing some pavements and road markings to create an open space for both pedestrians and vehicles.

At a meeting of NAG this week, members said they were against such an initiative because it will be detrimental to their independence.

Joyce Anderson, who is also a campaigner for the RNIB charity, said: “I regularly attend St Aidan’s Church for meetings, but if these plans go ahead there is no way I would be able to safely cross the road to the church any more.

“As someone with sight loss, I rely on kerbs and controlled crossings to safely navigate my surroundings.

“I can also envision many elderly people both with and without sight loss becoming isolated from their local community because they are no longer able to safely cross the road despite the council’s quote on improved community cohesion as a result of this scheme.”

Supporters of the ‘shared space’ concept say that the layout will result in many drivers reducing their speed.

But NAG secretary and RNIB campaigner Bob Potter said: “I am a guide dog owner and my guide dog, Fennell, needs markings like kerbs to identify the difference between the road and pavement.

“Controlled crossings enable me to confidently and safely cross a road.

“I am deeply concerned that this pilot will see more shared space developments being commissioned in Northumberland.”

Stobhill town councillor Alison Byard said last week that the scheme would cost £280,000 and she believes it is ‘unnecessary’ as Shields Road was resurfaced in September 2014 and the resurfacing was planned to last 20 years.

Francesca Di Giorgio, RNIB regional campaigns officer (North East), said: “Many shared space schemes have had a devastating impact on the lives of blind and partially sighted people.

“If navigating the newly developed area is difficult, these residents may no longer make the journey, leading to isolation, or they may take unnecessary risks when in the area.”