06 March 2024

Eliminating Adverse Impacts for Disabled People when City Planning

The Public Sector Equality Duty, as set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, requires local authorities to have due regard for the need to eliminate discrimination and advance equality for people with disabilities. This includes reducing disadvantages suffered due to a disability, meet the needs of disabled people and encourage disabled people to participate in public life. Failure to consider these principles in relation to city planning may be discrimination.

Specific duties are imposed on all Scottish local authorities to improve transparency and accountability. These duties include reporting on progress of the equality duty and publishing information in an accessible manner.

Anyone with an interest regarding a failure to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty can undertake a judicial review of an authority, but only the European Human Rights Commission can enforce specific duties. A local authority can demonstrate its attempt to comply with these duties by carrying out an Equality Impact Assessment.

An Equality Impact Assessment is used as a mechanism to ensure that decision makers are informed of potential disruptions and dangers to disabled people caused by new projects or events.

Glasgow City Council, for example, recommends a FAIR (Facts, Analyse Rights, Identify Responsibilities, Review Actions) based approach which emphasises the protection of Human Rights.

It is worth noting, however, that despite this, Glasgow City Council has found itself carrying out certain city-wide events which have disproportionately impacted disabled people. For example, according to the National Federation for the Blind UK, adaptations which have been made to fulfil agreements entered into at COP26, such as the double cycle lanes on Sauchiehall Street, have neglected inclusivity as an underpinning design principle.  We further published a blog post highlighting the impact of the UCI Cycling World Championships 2023 on people with disabilities.

Similar concerns have been raised in relation to the introduction of new cycle route plans in Ardrossan. It has been pointed out that had a sufficient Equality Impact Assessment been undertaken, the danger of shared paths, continuous pavements and uncontrolled crossings would have been recognised. All of these design aspects will make it increasingly difficult for disabled people to navigate their local area. Shared paths, in particular, directly contradict Rule 64 of the Highway Code which states that cyclists cannot use pavements which prioritises pedestrians over cyclists.  This rule protects deaf people who may not hear bike bells, people in wheelchairs who may struggle move to the side, people with guide dogs and even people with young children or prams. Through appropriate discussion with organisations such as Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and North Ayrshire Sensory Impairment Team, these issues would have been acknowledged early on.

Ultimately, it appears that Equality Impact Assessments are not being utilised to their full potential by Scottish local authorities.  This has been reflected in the results from the Equality Impact Assessment on the Planning (Scotland) Bill which expressed concern that decision makers did not fully understand issues surrounding accessibility. Changes to an existing environment, without due regard to the possible impact on those with disabilities, can lead to dangerous situations and increased anxiety.

It is positive to note, however, that Edinburgh is the first UK city outwith London to enforce new powers provided by the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 by issuing £100 fines for parking on pavements. This is hugely important for pedestrians, especially those in wheelchairs.

At Legal Services Agency, we recognise that those with disabilities face additional barriers and local authorities’ apparent disregard of statutory duties can restrict the ability to safely navigate cities. If carried out effectively, an Equality Impact Assessment should fully inform decision makers of adverse impacts. We urge all local authorities in Scotland to ensure strict adherence to their duties under the Equality Act 2010.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against based on your disability as a consequence of failure on behalf of a local authority to effectively undertake an Equality Impact Assessment, please call us on 0141 353 3354.

Erin Sweeney, Volunteer