Disabled Londoners call on mayor to improve access to capital’s public spaces

City Hall told disabled Londoners face too many obstacles across capital’s housing, public buildings and open spaces, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

An inaccessible stile on the London Loop
An inaccessible stile on the London Loop

Disabled people still face too many access problems across London’s housing, public buildings, and open spaces, City Hall politicians have warned.

In a letter to Sadiq Khan, the London Assembly’s planning and regeneration committee urged the mayor to convene a group of disabled Londoners and disabled people’s organisations to ensure a more inclusive design for the capital’s future buildings and spaces.

The group convened by Khan would help advise on the drawing up of the next London Plan – the document which is reviewed every few years and outlines how the city should develop over the coming decades.

During their investigation, the committee heard from Jane Wilmot, chair of the Hammersmith and Fulham Disability Forum Planning Group. She told them: “For many disabled people in terms of the built environment, the places and spaces they use, the reality is that most buildings, homes and places, even new ones, do not enable disabled people to enjoy the same opportunities in their local community that non-disabled people take for granted.

“Inclusive design needs to be a golden thread throughout the planning process.”

The committee was told that this was particularly apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic, when social distancing measures were made especially difficult for those using wheelchairs, who struggled to negotiate narrow pavements and corridors while leaving enough space for others.

The current London Plan, the committee was told, does not have “enough emphasis on embedding inclusive design to enable disabled people to live independently in their local communities or across London”.

A spokesperson for Khan said: “The mayor is committed to working with deaf and disabled people’s organisations, charities, civil society organisations, businesses and other partners to understand and tackle barriers faced by disabled people.

“He has received the assembly’s letter and will be responding in due course.”

The committee’s letter, authored by its Labour chair Sakina Sheikh, also raised concerns about other issues and inequalities in London’s planning system.

Sakina wrote: “The 2021 London Plan was finalised before the pandemic, and the committee is acutely aware of how Covid-19 uncovered and exacerbated many of the inequalities in our society.

“As we continue to recover from the pandemic, it is critical to integrate our learnings and begin reviewing the London Plan sooner.”

In addition to the lack of inclusive design for disabled people, the letter said more also needed to be done to recognise the complex impacts of regeneration on communities; to better engage renters in the planning process; and to place a greater emphasis on the importance of shared spaces and businesses serving local areas.

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