Blind campaigner calls for South Shields zebra crossing rethink

A blind rights campaigner has hit out at the removal of a zebra crossing outside South Shields’ new transport hub – and demanded council chiefs change their stripes on the issue.

By Gareth Crickmer
Monday, 29 April, 2019, 06:00
Peter Bennetts of the RNIB, concerned about traffic changes in Kepple Street, South Shields

Peter Bennetts, 63, chairman of the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) North East, has condemned a design change which will see the permanent removal of a safe crossing point at Keppel Street, South Shields.

The street runs between the part-built multi-million-pound rail and bus interchange and King Street, the town’s main shopping strip – with the crossing connecting both areas for many years.

But it does not form part of the district’s future access plans – with Mr Bennetts calling for a new consultation over the scheme.

South Tyneside Council, which is responsible for the planning design, says two other nearby crossing points – outside Waterloo Square, and at the bottom of Fowler Street - will be maintained.

Mr Bennetts, of Beaconside, South Shields, fears the removal will negatively impact on the elderly, disabled and parents with toddlers as well as on people with sight loss.

He said: “The council can’t simply do away with these safe and controlled crossing systems. The council is not listening.

“The removal of this crossing means some people will be put at risk of walking in front of buses if they want to cross into King Street from the new interchange.

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“From discussions with them, you get the impression that they don’t want the crossing there because it may slow down buses.

“The decision to take away this crossing has serious implications, not just for people who are blind or partially sighted, but for the elderly, those with children, and people in wheelchairs.

“As far as blind and partially sighted people are concerned, this is just part of a wider issue, which is that designers of these schemes have no idea what it’s like to be blind.

A spokeswoman for South Tyneside Council said: “The zebra crossing adjacent to Waterloo Square will remain whilst the two signal-controlled crossing points on the corner of Keppel Street and Fowler Street will be consolidated to a single light-controlled crossing point with tactile rotating cones on the push buttons.

“We have engaged with various user groups including the RNIB and drawn on independent advice from professional bodies to ensure our public realm is as safe and accessible as possible. Further engagement with users’ groups is planned in the near future.

“With the transport interchange scheme, we have employed a leading accessibility consultant to advise on the most appropriate design to meet the competing requirements of all members of the community, including transport operators to ensure they can run services to timetable as well as minimising risk to pedestrians.

“As we have said previously, it is important that we strike a fair balance in supporting our commercial centres while also recognising the needs of our disabled residents and visitors.”