Wandsworth Living Streets recently responded to Wandsworth Council’s consultation on the Council’s proposed inequalities objectives. What have inequalities to do with a more liveable borough? you may ask. We hope that our response, below, will help explain this. We encourage Wandsworth Council to consider how best it can meet its responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010, via streets and our public realm generally, in ways that are welcoming and inclusive to everyone. One aspect of the links between inequalities, deprivation and the quality of the public realm has been highlighted recently by the British Lung Foundation’s report ‘The Battle for Breath’ published on 6 June 2016. More information HERE
We look forward to working with Wandsworth Council and others with an interest in making streets across our borough truly inviting for people when walking or cycling.
Wandsworth’s equality objectives
Wandsworth Living Streets welcomes the consultation on the Council’s equality objectives. We are particularly pleased to see the inclusion of an objective to enable older people to maintain their independence and keep safe and agree with the decision to extend this objective to the over-65s as well as the over-75s, and by the inclusion of an objective relating to community cohesion.
However, it is disappointing to see the omission of any equality objectives on streets and the public realm. This is particularly surprising in light of the Council’s overarching corporate objective of making Wandsworth an attractive, safe, sustainable and healthy place, and of the extent of the Council’s influence on the public realm. We also note that according to Wandsworth’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment ‘Key Messages 2014 – General Adult Challenges’, 133,000 people in Wandsworth (43% of the population) are overweight or obese and 84,000 are insufficiently physically active to benefit their health.
The accessibility and safety of public places has a profound impact on issues ranging from the health effects of physical activity and air quality to the social impacts of community severance and crime. Healthy streets are good for everyone, but will make the most difference to disadvantaged groups. Active travel – walking and cycling – has been shown to promote physical and mental health and to reduce the environmental impact of the transport system in terms of noise and air pollution, meaning that it can make a major difference to some of the major drivers of health inequalities in Wandsworth.
Wandsworth Living Streets proposes that particular attention should be given to three areas in order to address inequalities in the borough: access to the public realm for disabled people, air quality and safety.
1. Air Quality
Poor air quality has become a major public concern, with opinion polls citing it as the most important threat to health in London.1 It is also becoming an increasingly salient issue in Wandsworth in particular, with poor air quality on Putney High Street making national headlines once again in 2016.2
The Council’s own Air Quality Action Plan3 cites evidence that:
Poorer communities experience higher concentrations of air pollution and have a higher prevalence of lung and heart disease
66% of carcinogenic chemicals emitted into the air are released in the most deprived 10% of wards
A disproportionate number of the most vulnerable communities live in air quality management areas
The vast majority of air pollution in Wandsworth comes from transport – but with some of the borough’s lower-cost housing located on some of its more polluted routes, and with only 55% of households owning a car, neither the responsibility for creation of air pollution, nor the health impacts of poor air quality is evenly distributed among the borough’s residents.4 It is notable that car ownership is in a minority of households in some deprived wards such as Latchmere and Roehampton.5
Recognising it as an equalities issue should give renewed focus to our ambitions to improve air quality.
2. Safety of vulnerable road users
The safety of vulnerable road users (defined by Transport for London as pedestrians, pedal cyclists and motor cyclists) is one of the twelve London-wide indicators of the Mayor of London’s health inequalities strategy delivery plan. They are considered to be populations who could also be at risk of other health inequalities, and this indicator was in part selected as a proxy measure for the overall health of local streets and their impact on equalities. Most traffic collisions could be prevented through enforcement, infrastructure and vehicle safety, alongside education and awareness, so we know that concerted action to address this issue would make a difference to outcomes for vulnerable people.
When compared to other Inner London boroughs, Wandsworth has similar rates of casualties for vulnerable road users once adjustments have been made for differences in mode share to be taken into account.6 However, absolute numbers of casualties for some vulnerable groups are high, and with demographic projections suggesting a growing, ageing population in the borough, the safety of vulnerable road users should be an important concern. Evidence shows that:
In 2013, Wandsworth had the second highest number of cyclist casualties in Inner London7
Older pedestrians make up a disproportionately high percentage of fatalities in road traffic collisions8
Identifying the safety of vulnerable road users as an equalities priority would be an important step towards making Wandsworth’s streets safer and hence more accessible for the people who most need it.
Disabled people are generally even less active than the rest of the population9, suggesting that mobility and access across the public realm should be a key dimension of equalities policy in the borough in order to ensure that it is considered whenever the Council works on its infrastructure.
Two small but telling examples of lack of consideration for these issues have recently been raised with Wandsworth Living Streets:
ACCESS TO AND FROM WANDSWORTH TOWN HALL MAIN ENTRANCE
We recently received a report that following an evening meeting at Wandsworth town hall, the pedestrian gates at the exit had been locked shut. This meant that anyone using a wheelchair would not have had step-free egress from the town hall to the street. We note also that the barrier guarding access to the town hall car park at this location makes no provision for disabled cyclists, since it is full-length. Reasonable adjustments to the access arrangements at this location would ensure that people using mobility aids, including such use of pedal cycles, would ensure that the Council meets the Equality Act in this respect.
ACCESS TO THE WANDLE TRAIL AT THE SOUTHERN END OF ‘THE CAUSEWAY’, ARMOURY WAY
We understand that Wandsworth Council has asked for the gate barrier at the southern end of The Causeway to be kept locked during working hours in order to deter car parking on the northern part of the Wandle Trail. We agree that car parking on the Wandle Trail to the north of this barrier is a problem and we think that it should be addressed via enforcement. The current situation disadvantages people with mobility problems since the non-barriered access points are either not step-free or have too tight a turning circle (or steep slope) to permit access for users of a range of mobility aids.
Comprehensive equalities impact assessment of proposed changes to the public realm and a clear central direction to ensure access for people with mobility problems would help to ensure that further changes do not worsen access to public spaces for disabled people.
Wandsworth Living Streets proposes the consideration of three additional equality objectives in the Council’s strategy for 2016-20:
• Improve air quality in Wandsworth to reduce the health impact of pollution on disadvantaged residents
• Reduce the number of vulnerable road users who are killed and seriously injured on Wandsworth’s roads while promoting the uptake of active travel
• Improve the accessibility of the public realm in the borough
 Evening Standard, London parents see toxic air as the biggest health threat to their children, March 2016, available at http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/london-parents-see-toxic-air-as-the-biggest-health-threat-to-their-children-a3208221.html (last accessed May 2016)
 The Guardian, London takes just one week to breach annual air pollution limits, 8 January 2016, available at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/08/london-takes-just-one-week-to-breach-annual-air-pollution-limits (last accessed May 2016)
 Wandsworth Council, Draft Air Quality Action Plan, 2015, available at http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/downloads/file/10708/draft_air_quality_action_plan_2015 (last accessed May 2016)
 Wandsworth Council, 2011 Census data and analysis, Ward level key statistics, http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/downloads/file/7876/ward_level_key_statistics_analysis_census_2011 (last accessed May 2016)
 ONS 2011
 Mayor’s Health Inequalities Strategy Delivery Plan 2015-18 Indicator Report, available at https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/mayors_his_delivery_plan_indicator_report_final.pdf (last accessed May 2014)
 Transport for London, Surface Transport Planning Factsheet: Casualties in Greater London during 2013, June 2014, available at http://content.tfl.gov.uk/casualties-in-greater-london-2013.pdf (last accessed May 2016)
 Transport for London, Older Pedestrians and Road Safety, April 2013 available at http://content.tfl.gov.uk/older-pedestrians-research-report.pdf (last accessed May 2016)
 See for example https://www.sportengland.org/research/encouraging-take-up/key-influences/sport-and-disability/ (last accessed May 2016)
For further information, or to discuss this in more detail, please refer to our CONTACT PAGE