Credit to Highways England for exemplar approach to consultation

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About Access praise Highways England when looking at two case studies involving accessibility within their consultation procedures

The Highways England case studies – the footbridge and the underpass

Steps, lifts, ramps, underpasses all have a part to play when it comes to helping people move around the built environment. And then there’s the escalator, which kicks in to ensure costs rise with every error in the design.

It’s generally recognised that for every £1 spent remedying a problem at the concept and preparation phase you can expect to spend £10 if the problem is not resolved by the time you get to scoping a project, and £100 at the planning and pre-construction stage.

We’ve been looking at two recent, live case studies which highlight the issues of getting it right or wrong.

The example of poor practice arose from a project to put in a new footbridge and lifts as part of an infrastructure development.

In this case the space constraints meant that some sort of compromise would be essential because there just wasn’t enough room to accommodate the bridge with the recommended space on the staircase landings and at the bottom of the steps.

It’s one thing that the designers chose to make the compromise in the wrong place, but it’s another that they didn’t consult about it. There was no doubt that the proposed solution would exacerbate the problems, but the main difficulty was that they had already started the work.

The team working on the project even claimed to have the support of a regulatory body. That body was unimpressed about being presented with a fait accompli and it remains a live issue which could go either way – the project could be halted and revisited, or it could continue but at risk.

At the moment there is an opportunity to minimise the costs of remedial work by pausing the project and doing the work now, with the alternative being to gamble on it being OK and risk much more expensive modifications and even demolition at a later date.

Highways England in Hull

For guidance on how to get things right we recommend the work of Highways England on the A63 at Castle Street in Hull, categorised as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project. It’s recognised as an exemplar case study on how to do consultation.

The road at that point is a barrier between the bulk of Hull city centre and the waterfront with its marina and substantial leisure and residential developments. The desire is to lower the carriageway and remove the pedestrian crossings. Work is under way now on construction of a striking new bridge and improvements to an underpass, and the road project will start next year.

When the project was first mooted and the drawings were first made available, Highways England consulted with the local access group. Both the design and the approach by Highways England left a lot to be desired in terms of accessibility and the needs of disabled people.

But to give Highways England deserved credit, they quickly asked for assistance to get their approach right and to get that reflected in the design. This included setting up workshops with the local access group and others to help them understand what was required.

Highways England’s response demonstrates that they were willing to listen, take on board comments and learn from past experience. It’s resulted in ongoing consultation and achieving a design that provides good levels of accessibility.

The underpass, which is a key element in the project, is unattractive, unwelcoming and stereotyped as such in the local community. They have come up with a design in its early stage which has been reviewed by the access group, and Highways England will now investigate and see what can be done.

The local access group also studied the plans for the new bridge. The travel distances and gradients of the range of the slopes have been designed with disabled people in mind. The width of the bridge allows people the space to pass one another. Discussion continues about providing space for lifts.

Learning from previous mistakes

One of the reasons Highways England failed in the early stages was that a lot of the roads they deal with, such as motorways, don’t pass through residential areas. Castle Street is different and generated a lot of issues that they have never encountered before, but they appreciated that they had a different scenario and would have to do something about it.

It’s important that a consultation is carried out at a time when there is an opportunity to remedy any faults before they require a lot of work. Highways England originally presented ideas that were not appropriate, but they were able to amend them by consulting properly at the appropriate stage.

More from About Access can be read on their stakeholder page.

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