Sandy Taylor, who is blind, has been the leading the protest against the controversial £3.1 million shared space project at Kirkintilloch town centre.
He and thousands of local people, including Strathkelvin MSP Rona Mackay, fear for the safety of pedestrians, particularly those disabled and elderly, after controlled crossings were removed from the busy Catherine Street junction. Instead, ‘courtesy crossings’ have been placed here, and along Cowgate, with neither pedestrians nor motorists having right of way.
Mr Taylor, Chairman of East Dunbartonshire Visually Impaired People’s Forum, hit out after the rainbow flag was raised at council HQ two weeks ago in support of equality and diversity, to demonstrate the council’s commitment to eliminate discrimination and prejudice.
The Kirkintilloch man said on Monday: “Sadly it appears, as far as the shared space design is concerned, this equality has not been extended to the blind, visually impaired, the disabled and the elderly people of Kirkintilloch”.
He added: “The introduction of the shared space scheme can only be described as the biggest institutionalised discrimination against blind and disabled people ever seen in Scotland.
“For over two and a half years my colleagues and I from East Dunbartonshire Visually Impaired Peoples Forum (EDVIP) have been telling Councillor Geekie that we cannot use courtesy crossings.
“She and her administration have refused to listen and we are therefore effectively excluded from our own town centre.
“We have campaigned against this scheme and delivered a petition with more than 3500 signatures to the council from the people in the local community. Again the voice of the people went unheard.”
Mr Taylor petitioned the Scottish Parliament last year for a moratorium on shared spaces until safety issues had been resolved.
During a meeting of the Public Petition Committee at Holyrood, Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said all local authorities should ensure shared spaces are “inclusive”.
Despite Councillor Geekie admitting live on BBC Radio Scotland recently that the shared space project had not worked and could be reversed, council depute chief executive Thomas Glen said just weeks later that there were no plans to reinstate the lights and work would continue.
Local MSP Rona Mackay, who had been trying to meet with Mr Glen to discuss the process of replacing safety crossings at Catherine Street, accused Councillor Geekie of doing a “U-turn on a U-turn”.
The council leader denied this and responded: “As I said in the interview, I don’t have the power to overturn a council decision nor does the administration have a majority. I have done no U-turn and as I said, ‘let the council decide’”.
Meanwhile, after saying it had “no wish to impose a design that will not work for local people”, environment group Sustrans, who set the design criteria for the shared space, said it would “continue to be supportive of East Dunbartonshire Council regeneration works in Kirkintilloch”.
The Herald is awaiting the council’s response to Mr Taylor’s accusation of “hypocrisy.”