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Cafes and corporate access

Liverpool Access Forum - 4/7/11

Peter Bates regularly attends the meetings of Liverpool City's Corporate Access Forum,  which looks at the accessibility of the public areas of the City  These are personal and selective notes: the Liverpool City Council website provides full official minutes of the Corporate Access Forum meetings, with contact details for more information.

It was good to hear that, following pressure from the Forum's Chair (Cllr Richard McLinden) and others, plans for the new Enterprise South Liverpool Academy would be changed to include an evacuation lift (the sort of lift that it is safe to use in a fire, and which was left out of the plans for the Liverpool Arena at the last minute to save money).

Pavement cafes are springing up all over the town - probably more because of the needs of smokers than any new Liverpool sunshine from global warming. Currently they need Planning Permission first - the planners check to make sure that the design is not a problem for disabled users (for example that there are tapping rails for visually impaired people using canes). Then they go to Highways section to get a Licence to use the public pavement (for which the City makes a charge). The whole process can take three months.

The City is planning to speed this up by just requiring the Licence from Highways - but still with advice on accessible design from the planners. This will reduce delays for businesses. It may also help disabled people. It  should be a much faster process for the City to intervene if a pavement cafe appears without permission, or if it doesn't stick to the access specifications. These say - for example - that there should be a clear two metres (6ft) between a pavement cafe and the edge of the kerb.

The City has budgeted to carry out 30 more access audits of council-owned buildings this year - though that doesn't mean that there will be any money to pay for any improvements that are identified.

The annual budget to put in drop-kerbs to allow wheelchairs to get up and down pavements is always far below the demand for them. If you know a place where such a kerb is wanted you should contact Highways. They will put it on their list, and will look at what sort of priority it can be given. To do that they estimate the cost of adding a particular drop-kerb and the number of people that might benefit from it.

There is a separate drop-kerb budget for important through routes in the city centre, because they benefit both local residents and tourists - whether they come on Merseyrail from Formby or from Florida on a cruise ship.

Modern urban traffic planning and design sees a blurring of "pavement" and "road" as one way of reducing traffic speed. This ambiguity makes drivers more nervous and therefore more cautious about pedestrians. However, this sort of change continues to create some lively discussion between the needs of people with mobility impairments (who generally prefer entirely flat surfaces around the town)  and people with a visual impairment who may need the pavement edges and the other raised marks that can guide them and keep them safe from traffic.