More pavement ‘café society’, more obstacles for blind and disabled

Chief Correspondent Rob Thomas finds the Government’s aim of promoting a continental-style café society on pavements needs to be carefully planned…

SIPPING a cappuccino or a pint while sitting – hopefully in the sunshine – at a table outside a café or pub in the high street seems an attractive proposition for many of us.

But it can add to the difficulties experienced by the blind, the visually impaired, and people with mobility aids as they walk along pavements and through pedestrianised areas.

In March, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced the extension of temporary pavement licences to help the post-lockdown recovery of England’s hospitality industry.

Granted by the local authority, a pavement licence allows removable furniture to be placed on the highway close to the licence-holder’s premises and the temporary scheme is designed to speed up the application process.

The furniture can include tables, chairs, counters, umbrellas, barriers, and heaters, and the eligible businesses are those which sell food or drink for consumption on or off the premises – such as, cafes, bars, pubs, ice cream parlours, and in certain circumstances, supermarkets or entertainment venues.

This increases the ‘street furniture’ which already exist – streetlamps, signs, public seating, waste bins, etc. – and there are the mobile hazards of cyclists, mobility scooters and e-scooter riders highlighted in The Globe (at: https://www.thegosportglobe.co.uk/mobile-high-street-hazards-every-few-minutes).

Jim Morey, secretary of the Gosport Access Group and Disability Forum, said the organisation supports, “local traders and feel that they should be able to put out tables, chairs and advertising where it is safe for them to do so. After all, disabled people are more than a fifth of the general population and we are also customers, staff and sometimes even owners of these places!

“But it is the location and placement of these items in the pedestrian areas which can cause problems for many disabled people. Depending on the situation, these can become obstacles which block peoples’ routes and, in some cases, cause injury.

“There should be a clear, unobstructed route along the building line, with a minimum width of 1.3m. This permits vision impaired persons to find their way along the shop frontages using their cane.”

‘I can sense the buildings. You get a sound echo’

It is a point of major importance to Tony Elbourne who is completely blind and uses a white cane.

He told The Globe: “I can sense the buildings. You get a sound echo and you can follow it and sense when the shops have a large entrance and that helps navigate and know where I am.

The alleyways that lead off Gosport High Street also help as, “a sudden draft and you know it’s an alley”.

Sometimes people think they are being helpful by guiding Tony into the middle of the pedestrianised area but, if they leave him there to then find his own way, he finds it more difficult to know where he is because he has lost the building line.

Gosport Borough Council informed The Globe that five pavement licences have been issued since March – two for Gosport High Street, and for Crescent Road, Lee-on-the-Solent, and Stoke Road.

Shorter licence application process

Under the Highways Act 1980 there is a minimum 28-day consultation period for pavement licences but the temporary requirements have reduced this to five days which is followed immediately by five days for the local authority to make its decision.

However, if the local authority does not meet this 10-day limit, the licence is deemed to have been granted for a year or, if shorter, until September 30, 2022.

Jim Morey said that GAGDF examines, “each application and considers its implications regarding the context of the location and its likely effect on disabled and vulnerable people”.

But he admitted the shortening of the consultation period, is of concern to GAGDF because we are all volunteers giving our time and expertise for free and we don’t always have the resources to respond in time”.

 

‘We take the needs of the blind and visually impaired very seriously whenever granting pavement licences’

 

Gosport Borough Council’s Head of Environmental Health, Ian Rickman, said: “The council, in consultation with Hampshire Highways and the Access Officer, will always consider the suitability of the proposed location for tables and chairs with individuals who are visually-impaired in mind.”

The approach of Fareham Borough Council was explained by the Executive Member for Health and Public Protection of Fareham Borough Council, Councillor Trevor Cartwright: “We take the needs of the blind and visually impaired very seriously whenever granting pavement licences.

“We have granted licences in Fareham West Street and Portchester West Street as the locations are suitable for outdoor chairs and tables without causing significant obstruction.

“Fareham Borough Council consult a number of agencies before granting licences including Hampshire Highways. A Conservation Officer, Access Officer, Planning Team and Fire Officer then consider the suitability of the proposed location for chairs and tables with the visually impaired [in] mind.”

Both Mr Rickman and Councillor Cartwright said site visits may be made if it is felt necessary, and both emphasised that their councils have the option of not granting permission.

It still leaves the independent GAGDF with a lot of work to do – not only examining pavement licence applications but also checking that the legal requirements continue to be observed by licence-holders – and more volunteers would be very welcome.

Anyone interested in getting involved should email: GosportAccessGroup@hotmail.co.uk

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s ‘Guidance: pavement licences (outdoor seating) is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/pavement-licences-draft-guidance/draft-guidance-pavement-licences-outdoor-seating-proposal

Photo (above): obstacles in Gosport High Street