The battle to have Kirkintilloch’s controversial shared space road layout reversed stepped up a gear this week.
A Holyrood committee made up of cross-party MSPs want to hear from the Transport Minister after a special Scottish seminar came out in favour of protestors’ safety concerns.
The Public Petitions Committee at the Scottish Parliament, which includes Strathkelvin MSP Rona Mackay, unanimously agreed on Thursday that the seminar’s “significant recommendations” should be implemented.
Made up of disabled person’s organisations, local authorities, planners and street designers, the seminar has concluded that kerbs and safety crossings should be retained at shared spaces.
Blind campaigner Sandy Taylor, who has been heading the local protest against the contentious Cowgate project, told MSPs the findings “vindicated” their stance.
He said on Monday: “We now await the decision of Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf.”
In its final report, the seminar, which met earlier this year, concluded that as well as kerbs and crossings being retained, Scotland should lead the way in re-writing guidance to ensure access for all and safety is at the heart of planning policy.
Campaigners have been battling for the shared space to be scrapped for the past two years because of safety issues, particularly for blind and disabled people.
In December 2015, members of East Dunbartonshire Visibly Impaired Peoples Forum (EVIP), led by Mr Taylor, handed over a petition to the Public Petitions Committee with 3,500 signatures of local supporters, in a bid to halt the local project.
Mr Taylor’s petition called for a moratorium for shared spaces until safety and equality issues had been addressed.
At Thursday’s meeting of the same committee, its convenor Johann Lamont MSP said: “The petitioner indicates that he considers the conclusions of the seminar vindicate his position and make all the recommendations in his petition.”
Ms Mackay declared an interest at the meeting as Mr Taylor was a constituent, before stating: “We need to take it further and ask the Minister his views on it and what can now be done because this issue is going to remain until something is resolved with it.
“Certainly in my constituency it’s a huge issue and as far as I believe, the local authority are having a consultation or a study survey of the whole of the streetscape, but it’s taking a long time and there’s no real commitment from them at the moment to restore safety crossings.
“I think it goes wider than just my constituency. The petitioner is not happy about the shared space schemes throughout the UK”.
Ms Lamont concluded: “We recognise the significant recommendations that have been made in the final report of the shared space seminar.
“I think there is an expectation from the petitioner and ourselves that we would want to see these implemented and be looking to get an answer from the Minister of Transport on how he does plan to respond.”
Mr Taylor told the Herald on Monday: “I am pleased with the outcome of the Petitions Committee.
“We as campaigners feel vindicated after the findings of the shared space seminar. We now await the decision of the Transport Minister.”
East Dunbartonshire Council and environment group Sustrans jointly financed the contentious new £3.1 million road layout along the whole of Cowgate.
In June this year, the council’s new minority SNP administration argued the possibility of reinstating traffic lights at the Catherine Street junction be addressed “as a matter of urgency”.
But Lib Dem councillor Susan Murray successfully put forward an amendment for more public consultation prior to any decision and her group was backed by Tory councillors.
Mr Taylor said afterwards it was clear what the vast number of local people were demanding – “now”.
East Dunbartonshire Council is due to receive a report in November from officers with plans for a signalised junction at Catherine Street. That report will inform the public consultation going forward.
It’s looking like this consultation will not be complete until well into the New Year.
At a meeting of the full council on Thursday night, Councillor Murray asked that a national charity be involved in the ongoing monitoring and evaluation programme of the shared space, overseen by Sustrans with support from the council and walking charity Living Streets.
In response to this invitation, Mr Taylor said: “As Street Access Officer for national charity the National Federation of the Blind UK, I would wish to be part of this representation for visually impaired and disabled people.”