The work on the guidelines is being led by the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) and will be published in summer 2016.
14 shared space case studies are being used to form the basis for the guidance which looks set to establish three broad types of public realm arrangement. Media coverage earlier this month suggested the National Federation of the Blind has been involved in developing the guidelines.
However, David Bates, street access executive for NFBUK, says that the visually impaired have not been properly consulted.
David Bates said: “Shared spaces and courtesy crossings on town streets exclude blind people. At a meeting with traffic engineers, myself a long cane user and a colleague with a guide dog, explained at length why blind pedestrians cannot negotiate right-of-way with vehicle drivers by sight, and why we invariably refuse to share the carriageway with moving vehicles which we can’t see.
“We also explained that neither sighted nor blind people can move safely in any planned direction without some form of guidance, for which the majority of people use their eyes to guide their feet or their wheels.”
Mr Bates added: “With no guidance at all it is not possible for anyone to walk for any distance in a straight line without drifting to the left or right, so blind people quickly get disorientated and lost in shared spaces where kerbs, pedestrian controlled crossings and all other ground level features which they follow have been carefully removed.
“Blind people use a long cane to feel their way by locating ground level features along their memorised route, and guide dogs are also taught to stop at curbs and to find pedestrian crossings.
“Blind people therefore cannot share the roadway with vehicles and negotiate right-of-way with drivers who they can’t see, as required by the shared space theory, so they are being effectively excluded from the increasing number of town streets from which kerbs and pedestrian priority crossings are being removed.
“The Public Sector Equality Duty requires local authorities to make all public areas accessible to everyone, even those who are blind, but some officials think this should not apply to people with no sight because they would never dare to walk alone without someone to guide them.”
In July 2015, Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE, Britain’s most successful Paralympic swimmer, published a report on shared space schemes in which he described the concept as a “planning folly”. He also called for “an immediate moratorium on all shared space schemes until thorough impact assessments can be conducted”.
*Founded in 1947 by blind and partially sighted people, NFBUK is an independent, non-political, self help campaigning pressure group and registered charity.