Campaigner’s court victory over council that risked lives with its tactile paving


15A disabled campaigner has secured a high court victory over his local council, after it put the lives of blind and partially-sighted people at risk by ignoring government guidance on the use of tactile paving at road crossings.

Mohammed Mohsan Ali’s victory came at the end of a three-and-a-half year legal battle with Newham council, in east London, over its decision to develop its own guidelines on tactile paving, also known as bubble or blistered paving.

The Department for Transport (DfT) had developed national guidance on tactile paving, with the help of the charities Guide Dogs and RNIB.

But Newham council introduced 10 pilot sites across the borough in 2009 with its own type of tactile paving, and only then began consulting with disabled people.

Newham’s schemes used grey instead of the more visible red tactile paving, and did not use “tails”, which indicate to a white cane-user the presence of a controlled crossing, such as a “zebra” or “pelican”.

Newham also only used the paving – which indicates where it is safe to cross a road – at controlled crossing points, and not at minor “uncontrolled” crossings.

Ali was one of a group of blind and partially-sighted people who visited some of the sites in January 2010 with members of the RNIB campaigns team. They concluded that Newham’s paving was “dangerous”.

But despite the warnings, Newham rolled out the pilot scheme across the borough later that year, and went ahead with publishing its own guidance.

Ali, who volunteers for RNIB and other disability organisations, said Newham’s actions had created a “life and death situation” and put blind and partially-sighted people at risk.

He said: “There’s a reason the [national]guidelines were drawn up: to ensure the safety of people like me who have sight loss.

“If laid wrongly, the tactile paving could actually be a real danger for blind and partially sighted people and cause them to walk into a busy main road or junction.”

He warned other local authorities that have developed similar guidance to Newham to rewrite their documents. “This case is a wake-up call for other local authorities that they need to get their act together.”

But he said the three-and-a-half year legal battle had been “well worth it”, as it had benefitted many other blind and partially-sighted people.

Concluding that Newham’s guidance was unlawful and should be revised, Mr Justice Kenneth Parker said in his judgement that the DfT’s guidance had been “produced at a high level and involved those with considerable experience and expertise” and that Newham had failed to justify its decision to depart from it.

Richard Stein, a human rights partner at Leigh Day & Co solicitors, who represented Ali, said: “For the planners at Newham to think they knew better, was arrogant, and worse, it put the visually impaired in real danger of serious injury and death.”

A Newham council spokesman said: “We are disappointed by the outcome of the case. The safety of our residents is paramount and our crossing designs are safe and effective, both for pedestrians and motorists.

“We consulted with local residents and carried out a pilot scheme beforehand to help ensure this. We are considering the details of the judgement carefully before deciding our next step.”

15 November 2012