Campaign victory: Westminster Council commit to accessibility upgrades in Soho

A before and after shot of Katie, a wheelchair user, on a pavement in Soho. In the before picture there is no dropped kerb so a large step. In the after picture, an asphalt tarmac ramp has been added.
Transport For All are celebrating a positive and successful outcome from our recent targeted campaigning in Soho, which has resulted in Westminster Council taking action and implementing several interventions that have drastically improved accessibility, including new ramps in over 22 locations in the area. 

Transport For All have been campaigning for accessible streetspace in Soho for years. 

All the way back in 2014, we supported one of our members, Chris Stapleton, to protest the lack of dropped kerbs in the area. After a 4-year campaign, Westminster Council agreed to implement over twenty new kerb drops in the areas Chris had identified. However, years later in early 2021 we found that there were still junctions with no dropped kerbs, and streets cluttered with bins, A-boards, signs and bollards. With the onset of outdoor dining, and with many businesses placing chairs and tables across the whole pavement, entire routes became impassable to many disabled people. 

We had enough, and we took action. 

 

On 5th May 2021, we sent a letter to Westminster Council detailing the many accessibility issues in Soho. 

 

Click here to read our letter to Westminster Council 

We then launched a public campaign, speaking in the media – with Campaigns Lead Katie Pennick speaking to BBC 5 LiveNewscast on BBC Sounds, and The World at One on BBC Radio 4, and our chair Alan Benson appearing on ITV news. 

 

News articles were written (such as these in The I and the Independent), and we garnered endorsement from our friends at London Travel Watch, RNIB and Guide Dogs, as well as significant support from the general public. 

Positive outcome 

We are delighted with the way in which Westminster acted quickly and decisively, listening to and valuing the lived experience of disabled people. 

Our team had a positive, productive meeting with Westminster Council who responded to the issues we raised and were innovative and proactive with their solutions. They made a series of immediate changes, promising to: 

The new ramps 

 Our team then met with the Leader of Westminster Council, who showed us around Soho to demonstrate the changes they had made in action. 

We were very pleased to see much clearer pavements, and routes which had previously been obstructed with chairs and tables were now maintaining 1.5m width gaps. 

 Another huge positive was the type of ‘temporary ramps’ that had been installed. Wherever possible, these were solid asphalt (tarmac) ramps, with a gentle gradient, and clearly marked with high contrast yellow paint. In instances where it was not possible to install this type of ramp, dur to the narrowness of the roads, removable but durable heavy rubber ramps were being rolled out at 6pm each day when the roads closed. These were much sturdier and safer than the yellow temporary ramps that we are familiar with seeing at places with contruction works. 

An electric wheelchair using a rubber ramp

“The response to the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the streets and raised a question of who our pavements are designed for. I hope that we can use this focused attention to hammer home the idea that inclusion and access must be at the heart of any plan or design. Accessibility is fundamental, not an add-on. I’m delighted with this result and kudos to Westminster for demonstrating what can be achieved when the lived experience of disabled people is valued. I hope to see other local authorities across the UK following suite.”

Katie Pennick, Campaigns Lead Tweet

“For so long, Westminster has been difficult to get around. We're delighted that the Council have responded positively to our campaign. We hope that as we emerge from the pandemic this will be and exemplar of good practice that other councils will follow.”

What next? 

 

We are proud of the outcome of our work with Westminster, and want to harness this momentum and use it to encourage other local authorities into enacting similar interventions.  

To that end, we’ve created a ‘Equal Pavements Pledge’ – a list of immediate measures that local authorities can put in place to improve the accessibility of the streets as we begin to open up. We’ll be publishing this list in the coming weeks and asking local authorities to ‘take the pledge’ to comit to simple steps to improve accessibility of streetspace.  

 

We have continued the dialogue with Westminster and will continue to work productively with them, raising issues wherever they arise. 

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A before and after shot of Katie, a wheelchair user, on a pavement in Soho. In the before picture there is no dropped kerb so a large step. In the after picture, an asphalt tarmac ramp has been added.

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