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Amendment 8

Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [HL] - Committee – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 25th February 2020.

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Lord Moynihan:

Moved by Lord Moynihan

8: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—“Accessibility The Secretary of State must make such regulations in relation to the access of disabled athletes, employees, volunteers and spectators to Games sport venues and sporting events as he or she thinks fit, including in relation to technical specifications, training for accessibility and events requirements, so as to ensure that all venue design and planning as well as sporting events’ operations satisfy the principles of equity, dignity and functionality as further specified in Accessibility Guide - An Inclusive Approach to the Olympic & Paralympic Games, issued by the International Paralympic Committee in June 2013.”

Photo of Lord Moynihan Lord Moynihan Conservative

My Lords, I shall make a brief introduction to this amendment because we have covered this in some detail, but that does not in any way take away from the importance of accessibility and of a focus in the Bill on the interests of disabled athletes and anybody with any disability who is associated with the Games, whether a spectator, a worker, an employee or any individual. They should not be in any way discriminated against. Placing accessibility in the Bill should be at the heart of our approach to hosting an international sporting event. We need an inclusive approach to these Games. In my amendment I refer to the International Paralympic Committee, which has done remarkably good work on technical specifications for access, circulation, pathways, ramps and stairways. Those are clearly defined—the IPC accessibility guide has some 250 pages. It has rightly been accepted as a live document; it should improve. It was written in 2013, post London 2012, but it is still regarded as the key document for any sensible and modern approach to accessibility when hosting Games. It covers amenities, hotels, other accommodation, publications, communications, transportation—which we will come to in a much-anticipated contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Snape—and training in accessibility. Training the volunteers about accessibility is really important, as is making sure there is awareness training and job-specific training for hosting Games. Then, there are the Games requirements which we have considered in the past.

Tokyo 2020 has just published its accessibility guide for the Paralympic Games. It is interesting to note that not only does it aim to use the Games to ensure that all the venues, facilities, infrastructure and services provided are accessible and inclusive; more importantly to me, it sees the Games as a catalyst for change throughout the whole of Japan. It has simultaneously published a universal design 2020 action plan, which the Japanese Government are looking to implement to improve accessibility across the country. That is a step forward from the 2013 document, because it states that hosting an Olympic Games or other major sporting event needs to focus on accessibility in all its forms, but it can also be used as a catalyst for change in the country as a whole. All these measures show how vital it is to place disabled athletes and anyone who faces any form of disability on exactly the same basis as any able-bodied athlete or anybody who does not require detailed consideration of their disability. We must improve social inclusion and accessibility. I am looking forward to the highlight of the Committee this evening, when we hear more about the transport plan—and, on a serious note, the importance of accessibility throughout the whole of the transport network. With those brief words, I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I do not want to delay my noble friend’s tour de force but I want to support the noble Lord in what he said about accessibility. My amendment concerns a small bit of accessibility, but a very important one since many visitors will arrive to see the Games via Birmingham New Street station. New Street is a paradox because it is a wonderfully bright building which is very popular and has fantastic facilities, but it is not really a railway station. It is a retail outlet that was placed on top of a railway station, with no increase in the capacity of the station, apart from the four lounges at the top. I do not know what my noble friends think of those lounges, but they are basically deeply unattractive concrete holding pens to stop people cramming down on to the platform. There is no carpet. They are not like an airport. There is not even rubber matting. They are concrete and cold and miserable and do not do the job.

At Second Reading my noble friend Lady Crawley spelled out the confusing nature of the layout. My noble friend Lord Snape is puzzled by platforms A and B, but there is also the name. Is it Birmingham New Street station or is it Grand Central? There are different signs with different descriptions of what I think is the same building. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, raised the issue of people with disabilities trying to get through. We go through regularly and see people asking where the taxi rank is. There are two taxi ranks, but they are nowhere near where people leave the station. Both are in the open air because even though the station was designed to have one taxi rank with cover, it was then decided that that was not where you should catch a taxi. If you ask people what they think of the retail outlet—John Lewis and the restaurants—they say it is wonderful; but it is not New Street railway station.

All I am doing is highlighting a real concern that Network Rail needs to get a grip on this and rediscover its role of providing facilities for rail travellers rather than being a retail estate developer, which is essentially what it has become. We need some assurance that the organisers understand this and are going to make it as easy as possible for visitors to find their way to buses, taxis, trams and other facilities. I realise it could be argued that this is a small point concerning an otherwise fantastic Games, but it is actually quite important.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Party Chair, Liberal Democrats, Acting Leader, Liberal Democrats

I put my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and I will come back to that in a minute. I just want to pick up the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I want to refer again to the meeting I had with two people from the organising committee who were extraordinarily helpful. Emma Clueit, in particular, was knowledgeable and more than helpful—she tried to explain things. I thought she could influence what was going to happen, so it was an entirely positive conversation.

However, there is a “but” coming. The “but” on transport is that she was saying that they had just been invited to have somebody on the transport forum. However, that is only one voice on a much wider forum. I have sat on those regional or subregional forums, and my worry about Birmingham New Street is the ability of one body to change something is much more limited than if you have a longer-term base.

The other issue is that change is required very quickly. I did not even know that there were two taxi ranks at Birmingham New Street when I relayed my problems with one of them at Second Reading. I find that quite amusing. There are going to be major issues with the large numbers of people coming through for the Games that will need to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. That will be a legacy for Birmingham if it is handled right.

I want now to move back to Amendment 8 on having a statement of accessibility in the Bill. I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that it is essential. To refer again to the conversation that I had with Miss Clueit and her colleague, the Games team have slight concerns about the IPC standards being used because sometimes they want to better them. I have complete sympathy with that, but that is not what the amendment says. It says that the standards must be satisfied. In other words, it is a floor of accessibility, not a cap.

I think there is a very good reason for having it, for just the reason I have said, on transport. We need to ensure that Games committees have real power in the communities in which they are working to make changes happen. Having something in the Bill will make the other statutory bodies in the area have to face up to their responsibilities as well. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to put it in the Bill because some of the problems outlined during Committee stage today demonstrate that, while the organising committee has the best of intentions, its ability to deliver everything that the wider community wants is harder without the power of something being in the Bill.

I said I would go very briefly back to the issue of accommodation for athletes. I was rather disappointed with the letter I got from the leader of Birmingham Council. There are two forms of category 3 for living accommodation for wheelchair users. He said:

Category 3 is generally around the provision of equipment specific to user”.

No, it is not. My worry is that the council is providing the planning permission for these units and the advice that Councillor Ward has got from his officers does not even understand the basics that Paralympic athletes will need. I remain extremely concerned about that. I hope that perhaps I can have an update letter from Birmingham City Council to reassure me. My letter made no indication at all that there was any accommodation for category 3. I know that that is not true because of the conversations I have had with Miss Clueit and I have also seen the Birmingham Mail report on the number of units that will require extra care in the future. It is 161 units and I suspect they are the wheelchair-user ones.

There is no joined-up thinking on this and that is exactly why accessibility needs to be in the Bill to make sure things do not drift and fall through the net.

Photo of Lord Snape Lord Snape Labour

My Lords, I fear the sense of anticipation outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, will be equalled only by the sense of disappointment when I sit down. Speaking in these debates on transport is very difficult. The Minister said at Second Reading, tongue in both cheeks I suspect, that I was a world expert on railways. I was reduced to the ranks earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, who described me only as the world expert on railway signage. The difference is fairly substantial and neither of them is particularly true. I will take it in the way that he meant it, rather than the way he expressed it, as he meant it sincerely.

I have three brief points on transport and particularly on New Street station. My noble friend Lord Hunt amply set out the difficulties for able-bodied Brummies to get round it. I am neither of course, although I have lived in Birmingham for 40 years. People who live in the city find it difficult to find their train. You can find a hamburger or a newspaper very easily at New Street Station; finding the right train is much more difficult.

I will confine my remarks to the platforms. For various reasons, all the platforms at New Street— all 18 of them, I think—are divided into A and B ends. They are poorly signposted and it is baffling for people from out of the city. You walk down the stairs and it is not apparent whether you are at the A or the B end. You get on the train in the station and go in the opposite direction to one you wished to go in—it is that bad. Surely the powers that be—I think it is a Network Rail station; the ownership of railway stations is a difficult matter these days—should have the concerns of passengers at the forefront of their minds. As my noble friend said, it is a fine retail centre but not good as a station.

Also, as it is an underground station with tunnels at either end, it is extremely smoky if there is a diesel multiple unit standing in the station. Some of them stand in the station for a long time. Many of the people arriving for—and departing from—the Commonwealth Games will spend some considerable time in the station. It is not a pleasant atmosphere, and these days when we are much more aware of the danger of diesel fumes, for example, it is not to be commended.

Virgin Trains—much missed in my opinion—used to have a spare Voyager diesel multiple unit standing in the sidings in New Street station. I do not know whether its successor, Avanti trains, does the same. The train would stand for four or five hours at a time with its engine running. I do not see the point of that or why no one has realised the danger to those using the station.

Again—I am not trying to demonstrate a particular expertise and the fact that I take some interest in these matters—New Street station should have been resignalled under Network Rail’s plans in 2016. For various, understandable reasons that it would be inappropriate for me to go into, it has not been done. Network Rail is now talking about resignalling the station shortly. I would like to know, and I would like the Minister to find out, what “shortly” means because it is not a simple task to resignal a station such as Birmingham New Street. Its current signalling was installed in 1964. It is time expired. For some reason, that brutalist building at the end of the platform has been listed. It is a typical example of 1960s concrete architecture, but I am no expert. It is a credit to the signallers over the 56 years that a station designed for 600 trains a day in the 1960s now accommodates around 1,400 trains in the course of 24 hours. Resignalling it is going to cause considerable dislocation and delay.

I ask the Minister to talk to her counterparts in the Department for Transport to ensure that resignalling does not take place immediately before, during or immediately after the Commonwealth Games, because it would cause considerable dislocation for passengers using the station. I repeat that these matters are not, strictly speaking, anything for this Minister, but we would like an assurance from her that discussions will take place between her department and the Department for Transport so that some of these matters can be debated and, perhaps, resolved. There will be an enormous impact on the Commonwealth Games if we get the transport system wrong, but so far it does not appear that Network Rail is making much of an effort to get the transport system, particularly New Street station, right.

Photo of Baroness Grey-Thompson Baroness Grey-Thompson Crossbench 7:15 pm, 25th February 2020

My Lords, I should probably apologise to your Lordships because all my favourite subjects are wrapped up in these two amendments. I shall try to be brief, which is something that noble Lords never want to hear at this time of the evening. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for introducing his amendment in such a positive way. I also thank the organising committee, which has been very generous with its time. There are a few areas that I would like to cover.

Quite rightly, we talk about the athletes’ village and transportation but I am not aware that we have talked about moving athletes’ sports equipment around, from the village to the training venue or wherever. Usually there is storage at the competition venue but these pieces of equipment are really expensive—between £5,000 and £20,000. An athlete’s desire to be separated from their equipment is usually very low. When I competed back in 2004, I tried to explain to somebody why I did not want my racing chair to be thrown on to a separate bus. I said that I would rather my two year-old child was sent on a separate bus, but then I realised that I sounded like a slightly harsh mother.

Most athletes will have only one piece of equipment and it is not easy to obtain. There will be a repair centre in the village, but it is far easier not to have to repair equipment in the first place. This is about training the volunteers and understanding the value not just of the sports equipment but of an athlete’s day chair. If you transfer to a seat in a bus, you do not want your day chair to disappear, as it may never come back again. Of course, disabled people are not just athletes, and I hope that the volunteer programme will do as much as the 2012 Games and Glasgow Commonwealth Games in encouraging disabled people to volunteer.

I am also very keen to think about what we can do for spectators. For example, I am thinking of flexible seating. I was offered quite a lot of reassurance about the purchase of accessible tickets, and that will be done in a very sensible way. Disabled people often have to apply on a separate phone line and often, only a limited number of tickets are available.

For me, one huge success of the 2012 Games was their flexibility. Whether people had bought a disabled ticked, an end-of-row ticket or a ticket for a seat with more leg room, when they turned up at the venues, they found that the volunteers were exceptionally well trained to think about how to make the most of the situation. The experience of a spectator is not just about watching the sport; it is about being part of a group of people—part of the crowd and the environment. As a disabled person, you rarely experience that. I was trying to think how to describe it. It is a little like being a Cross-Bencher or a wheelchair user in this area of the Chamber when the House is packed. You miss everyone around you—those little conversations that you can have with the people in front of you or behind you. It can be quite isolating, and that is the experience of the majority of disabled people when they go to concerts or sports events. It is them and their carer—a word that I do not particularly like. Often, it is just the wheelchair user plus one.

I shall tell your Lordships about my worst experience. Again, I am not a terrible mother but I took my child to a concert when she was two years old. It was explained to me that, as she was not my carer, she was not allowed to sit with me. They tried to make her sit 25 rows in front of me until I pointed out that they were responsible for her safety—and then they suddenly allowed her to sit with me. That is an example of rules and red tape, and of just not thinking.

The best situation that I have witnessed was at the 2012 Games. Plastic seats were found and a group of us who happened to be wheelchair users and had travelled together were able to sit together and enjoy the experience. I hope that Birmingham will be able to offer that sort of flexibility, understanding people’s needs and not saying, “You haven’t got the right ticket. You can’t come in”.

One of my favourite topics is toilets. I would love there to be appropriate toilets and lots of Changing Places toilets. I have been assured that that is being looked at very carefully. If the RADAR scheme is to be used, I have spare RADAR keys—the keys for disabled people. If you come from another country, you may not know that that scheme exists, but it is important.

Moving on to transport, the noble Lord, Lord Snape, lived up to expectations. I hope that in future I will be able to refer to him as “my friend in accessible train transport” or “my friend who finds solutions for train stations”. I share many of his concerns about New Street station. I declare that I am part of a group called the Campaign for Level Boarding. It is not strictly part of the Bill but we are looking at how to make it better and easier for disabled people to travel. I am delighted that the Secretary of State today launched a campaign called It’s Everyone’s Journey, which is a step forward in looking at access. However, the reality is that what we have talked about today is only a small fraction of what is needed to make stations, including New Street, more accessible. I will be writing to the Secretary of State later.

We need to think more about how the Access for All fund can be improved. As a disabled person, the reality for me is that I am only likely to be able to have truly accessible transport in the UK in 2075 and, although I hope to be, I warrant that I will probably not be around then. For me, part of the Commonwealth Games is thinking differently about how disabled people travel. When we get to the Games, lots of people will be travelling and New Street station will be a gateway. We need to think about how to get people out of the station quickly and how it can be used as a queueing system. I agree that the signposting around New Street is really difficult. When I lived in Birmingham, it was the old New Street station. I slightly prefer the new one.

Also, I did not realise that there were two taxi ranks at the station—I thought that there was only one. I find it an incredibly station difficult to navigate. I spoke to some colleagues from the Campaign for Level Boarding to get their experience of New Street. Dr Amy Kavanagh, an activist, praised the staff. Amy is vision-impaired and said that the staff there are superb. They are really helpful and adaptable and are an exemplar of staff across the network. Doug Paulley, a renowned campaigner, also praised the staff, but said about New Street that it is,

“narrow and curved. The underground tracks make it very difficult to find. The shopping centres and exits are hideously complicated, and it’s a huge distraction from what it’s meant to be: a railway station”.

He also described it as “Mordor”, which is an interesting view, but it shows his frustration at how difficult it is to get around.

Solutions are required. We need better signage. The signage in 2012, with spots on the floor, was really useful and we should think about that. Regarding the two taxi ranks, we should think about platforms or humps to enable people to get in and out of taxis more easily. Currently, the accessible toilets are on the wrong side of the ticket barrier. They can be used only when you have gone through the ticket barrier, so they need to be repositioned to the outside.

We need to be really creative in how we train and prepare people. The whole experience of being at the Commonwealth Games comes back to what I said at the beginning. It is not just about when you get to the Games venue; the experience starts when you leave home —the excitement and the fact that you have tickets and are going to the Games. Every step along the way is a very important part of that. In 2012, that is what TfL got right. For the vast majority of the time, it got the public transport right, and that is one reason why people have such fond memories of the Games. If we can take a bit of that magic fairy dust and move it to the Birmingham Games, it will mean that people go away having had a really positive experience. If we can sort out a few of the issues at New Street, we will have a better chance of making the Games a success.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my noble friend Lord Moynihan for raising the important issue of accessibility through Amendment 8 and for his very helpful analysis of all the different issues involved. He gave the example of Japan and explained how focusing on accessibility and getting that right can improve the broad experience of the Games.

I know that the organising committee recently engaged with a number of noble Lords on its approach to accessibility, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Grey-Thompson, the noble Lords, Lord Griffiths, Lord Hunt and Lord Snape, and my noble friend Lord Holmes. It is extraordinary to listen to the expertise that noble Lords share on these different issues, and I am sure that I speak on behalf of the organising committee in being grateful to them for sharing that expertise.

The aim for Birmingham 2022 is that all venues and the services around them are designed, operated and delivered to ensure that everyone has a great Games experience. That is why Birmingham 2022 is developing an accessibility strategy with spectators, athletes, media, the local workforce and volunteers in mind. The strategy will be published this spring. I am sure that noble Lords will take the opportunity to provide feedback to the organising committee on all aspects.

I understand that a number of noble Lords have spoken to the organising committee since Second Reading about the approach to accessibility. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for her feedback on that. I hope that that helped to address some of the questions raised, including around New Street station signage and accessible seating.

The noble Lord’s amendment refers to the International Paralympic Committee’s guidelines, which undoubtedly provide a foundation and benchmark for accessibility standards at major sporting events. At Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, shared her experience —not such a good one—of seating. I thought that it would be helpful to look at what will happen in Birmingham. Birmingham 2022 will meet the committee’s guidelines on accessible seating provision, with 0.5% of seating for wheelchair bays, 0.5% for companion seating and companion seats located next to bay spaces. Games organisers will also look at providing seating for friends, family and others in the party as close to the wheelchair bays as possible, hopefully addressing the point about flexibility that the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, raised.

While such standards will act as a marker and consideration for accessibility planning for Birmingham 2022, the Games will look to encompass a range of accessibility guidance, best practice and regulations, taking an approach that reflects the size and scale of the Games. This will include areas such as ticketing and the recruitment and support of volunteers to ensure that accessibility is at the forefront of thinking. It was helpful to have the examples from London 2012 about good training making such a difference.

I also understand that the International Paralympic Committee’s guidelines are currently being updated, which my noble friend referred to. That is one of the reasons that Birmingham 2022 plans to design and deliver the Birmingham inclusive Games standards. This will be an evolving and bespoke set of access and inclusion standards which we hope will be applied not only across these Games but potentially for future events.

As noble Lords will know, the Government tabled an amendment in the previous Session requiring the organising committee to report on what it has done to ensure that Games events are accessible to disabled people. It will also produce quarterly reports on Games delivery, including updates on this area. We take this extremely seriously.

Turning to Amendment 17 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I have taken note of the points raised by the Committee about ensuring appropriate transport links to Games venues. I understand that a particular focus of this amendment is around the provision of accessible transport and hope to reassure noble Lords that such an amendment is not required.

Games partners are committed to delivering a fully accessible transport system so that everyone is able to participate in and enjoy the experience of the Games, which ensures, as far as possible, seamless journeys for spectators, athletes and officials to all venues. The organising committee will write about athletes’ equipment, because I do not have a specific answer.

A joint transport group was established over 12 months ago, chaired by the managing director of Transport for West Midlands, to ensure full integration in transport planning for the Games. Details of routes and transport arrangements for the main transport hubs and all venues will be included in the next version of the Games strategic transport plan, the first draft of which underwent a period of public engagement between September and December 2019.

I understand that this next version will include the arrangements for all spectator and workforce transport modes, including buses and taxis. I presume that this will include both taxi ranks at Birmingham New Street—we have all discovered the second. I have been assured that there will be engagement with disabled people’s organisations and other groups to ensure that the necessary accessibility requirements are fully considered; for example, as already set out in the first draft Games strategic transport plan, the provision of accessible bus shuttle services from key transport hubs and park and ride sites. If noble Lords would like to suggest local groups or stakeholders they would like to see engaged as part of this process, I would be very happy to pass those on to the organising committee.

Concerning plans for New Street station specifically, I am happy to talk to my noble friend the Minister in the Department for Transport on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Snape. More broadly, I am pleased to report that Birmingham 2022 is working with Games partners to make sure that Games signage in hubs such as New Street will be completed. It is already engaging with Network Rail—the landlord and station manager—on improvements that could be made in the run-up to and during Games time. I am told that plans for the station at Games time will build upon successes from other recent major events, including the Cricket World Cup, and will be drawn up later in the year once full details of competition schedules and venues for Birmingham 2022 have been released.

For the Games to be successful, we know that transport in the host city and region must work effectively and be accessible—from the point that you leave your front door, so that the stresses of getting to the Games are kept to an absolute minimum—for athletes, spectators and those working and living around Games locations alike.

The Government are confident in the Games partners’ ability to deliver on Games-time transport needs. I hope that the progress and planning that I have set out have reassured the noble Lord—who I hope is also my noble friend—that work is on track to achieve this, and, further, that noble Lords can see the commitment to delivering a truly accessible Games in 2022. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Moynihan Lord Moynihan Conservative 7:30 pm, 25th February 2020

I am very grateful to the Minister for her response. There were a lot of very firm commitments there from the Government, particularly around accessibility. I think that this is important. Frankly, it is worth while tabling an amendment of this type simply to listen to the experience of the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Grey-Thompson, who have in effect put out a lexicon and agenda that must be followed. I am grateful to the Minister for her strong commitment and response. I am sure that we will pick up on the specific concerns that were raised as well. I look forward to the Government responding to those.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Snape, absolutely lived up to expectations—another gold medal performance from him. It was a blessing that we did not get a potted history of his experiences in Birmingham hotels this evening, as we did at Second Reading. With those brief observations, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 8 withdrawn.