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Chelmsford city centre focus on improved access for all

As improvement work in the city centre on Chelmsford High Street and Tindal Square progresses, it has presented an opportunity to design the city centre as a user-friendly environment for all.

High Street Works 01

Cities everywhere have been creating car-free public spaces as the effects of cars and air pollution on health have become a concern. In planning the improvement works for the High Street and Tindal Square, a major consideration was to design a city centre that offered safer mobility and improved access for everyone.

During the detailed design phase of the scheme the team took the opportunity to explore how the space could accommodate those with sensory and mobility requirements in a better way. The new road surfaces, seating, street furniture and traffic management have been designed with these needs in mind.

Stable paving for all users

Flat, stable surfaces are vital for people with a physical impairment. The previous yellow clay paving had become uneven in places and would also become slippery when wet.

With improved modern materials, the works teams were able to choose paving that gives better traction, offering a more gripable surface and better colour contrast. Where vehicle traffic moves over the surface it will also be less liable to distort, meaning it will be less likely to become uneven over time.

Quiet spaces in the city centre

For some people it is important to have spaces that are quiet and provide a retreat from the bustle of the High Street. This is a particular consideration for people living with neurodiverse conditions. Busy, crowded environments can cause confusion for people’s sensory processing and spatial awareness.

The position of trees was carefully considered to provide seclusion from the main walkway, with public seating nearby to create a quieter area for people to use. It was also important to keep the sight line of the Shire Hall and Judge Tindal statue clear to provide familiar visual cues, should someone feel lost or unsafe and to enable them to find help.

In addition, barriers were positioned to direct pedestrians safely. This is particularly relevant for mobility scooters, wheelchairs and prams.

The area is regularly inspected by the council’s access officer to ensure the needs of all people with impairments are met. The officer made sure that disabled people were consulted throughout the design and the work. Any noisy work was kept to a minimum and noise barriers were used when cutting activities were taking place.

Temporary signage is an issue for all users of the High Street. To prevent confusion, we have kept signage to a minimum during the construction phase with only essential signs being displayed.

We have also sought to raise awareness of other road users’ safety. People with neurodiverse conditions may sometimes follow other people when negotiating a new space. Indicators were placed highlighting to the public how to be safe and not walk in the road or cross at unsafe points where someone could follow them.

Public seating

Practicalities for people with physical impairments were considered in selecting public seating. The choice was made in consultation with the access officer. Seating was chosen that could be readily maintained, was cost effective and useable for all people.

Features spaced to avoid impediment

The position of features such as trees and public seating were carefully considered so as not to create obstacles for people with impairments.

The design ensured that there is enough space between each element to allow a clear sight line of the High Street. This also means that building frontage does not become obstructed, which is helpful for shelter and orientation for people such as cane users or those with neurodiverse conditions, who are likely to follow a building line to aid navigation and boost confidence when using the public space.

"This is a great opportunity to update our city centre with modern techniques. The work will result in an appealing, safer setting for everyone who comes to Chelmsford for shopping or leisure.

Regular consultation with our Access Officer has ensured that the new environment will become more inclusive, providing benefit to all users, and will be more welcoming for people with physical impairment."

Cllr Mike Mackrory, Cabinet Member for Sustainable Development
High Street Works 04

The project team is part of the Considerate Constructors scheme in which construction companies agree to abide by the code of conduct which aims to encourage best practice. 

The work is part of the Tindal Square and Market Road improvement scheme being led by Chelmsford City Council in partnership with Essex County Council. It is fully-funded by developers’ contributions and Government funding and follows an extensive public consultation carried out in Summer 2019.

You can find out more about this joint project on the Essex County Council website.

To receive updates on Tindal Square and other news from the city council, sign up to the City Life mailing list

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Charlotte Maltby
Charlotte Maltby

Charlotte writes about the environment, parks, recycling, business, planning, public realm and democratic services.