A High Court judge has rejected a legal challenge to controversial road blocks which have provoked a massive reaction across South London
Lambeth’s “Low Traffic Neighbourhoods” (LTNs) will stand, after the legal action by disabled resident of Brixton, Sofia Sheakh, backed by campaign group One Lambeth, which arose out of the Oval LTN.
She sought a judicial review because she claims town hall bosses introducing LTNs across the borough, including Streatham Hill LTN and the Railton and St Matthew’s LTN, have blighted the lives of disabled people who cannot walk or cycle and rely on cars.
But Justice Kerr has ruled in Lambeth’s favour – though he has granted permission to appeal over the council’s duty to take equality into account.
Sofia Sheakh, 47, who is acutely ill and spent 32 days in a coma with Covid-19, took the council to court over the closure of her road, which she says has caused congestion, pollution and is making her once short trips to hospital and her doctors, in her hybrid mobility car, take much longer.
Justice Kerr said in his judgement: “In my judgment, there was enough consideration of equality objectives in the October report. That included, legitimately, consideration of the point that the same equality objectives would be looked at further, in much more detail and with a sharpened focus, at later stages in the statutory process.
“That does not mean, as the claimant would have it, that performance of the duty was put off to another day, when it was too late to perform it because the relevant function had already been exercised. In the present context, I find that the duty was performed at the time of the October report.”
On Ms Sheikh’s claims he added: “She has demonstrated that her particular problem of dependence on car transport with increased journey times and stress, was not identified until after the operative decision in October 2020; but she has not demonstrated that Lambeth thereby, or at all, breached the public sector equality duty.”
On the claim that car drivers were not given enough consideration, he said: “That certainly did not happen here.
There is ample evidence of the balancing exercise being performed.
“I conclude that the claimant is wrong to say there is no evidence of the balance being struck; there is plenty of evidence of it being struck; and the unusual circumstances in which these LTNs came into being makes that not in the least surprising. I dismiss this ground of challenge.”
On campaigners’ claim Lambeth should have consulted Disablity Advice Service Lambeth, he added: “The omission to consult the charity is not actionable; there was no obligation to consult that organisation and
it was not irrational to omit it from the list; it can contribute to the debate via the objections procedure if it wishes to do so.”
Ms Sheikh said: “We are disappointed by the judgment but not disheartened – we know that we have the continued support of a large part of the community and we intend to fight on.”
But Lambeth leader Cllr Claire Holland said: “We welcome the judge’s decisive ruling, dismissing the claims on all counts.
“Lambeth has been clear from the start that we had to act swiftly and urgently in the face of the huge challenges that the coronavirus pandemic posed to our borough, and in particular the immediate risk of it making existing inequalities on our streets and in our neighbourhoods worse.
“The council has set out from the outset that implementing measures to make our streets safer and healthier was fully in line with statutory guidance and national policy objectives. We rejected any suggestion that these schemes are discriminatory in any way or were installed illegally.
“We’re glad that the judgement is clear on that, and particularly that considerations of equality were accounted for at the earliest stage of the LTN. The judgement also reinforces our approach of continuing to consider those objectives using data collected throughout the experimental period, ensuring that the impacts on those most at-risk remains front and centre of our approach.
“The start of the Covid-19 pandemic saw capacity on public transport reduced by up to 80 per cent to accommodate social distancing. With around 60 per cent of households in Lambeth not having access to a car, and with access typically lower for women, Black and disabled residents in particular, we needed to make our streets safer to enable them to walk, cycle, scoot or wheel safely in their local area and access local facilities during the pandemic.
“The council’s response was an emergency transport plan, produced last summer for the benefit of all Lambeth’s residents but primarily focused at tackling the acute inequalities that we envisaged the pandemic would exacerbate in our borough. This plan included pavement widening, temporary walking and cycling infrastructure and low traffic neighbourhoods.
“The council is carrying out regular, detailed, open and transparent monitoring of the programme and has already taken on board feedback from local people to make improvements where necessary.
“We will now redouble our efforts to involve all of our communities in a conversation about how we rebalance our streets so that they are more equal, safer and put people first.”
Anne-Marie Irwin, lawyer for Sofia Sheakh, said: “We welcome Mr Justice Kerr’s decision to grant permission to appeal and agree with his assessment that the appeal has a real prospect of success and that, in view of the proliferation of LTNs around the country, there is a compelling reason why this appeal should be heard.
“It is vital that the needs of disabled people are properly considered prior to making such fundamental changes to our roads and neighbourhoods.”
Lambeth Council had during the course of the hearing admitted an “administrative error” meant it had closed roads to traffic in South London without obtaining the proper authority to do so.
Town hall chiefs signed off Experimental Traffic Orders to close streets to create the Oval Triangle low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) before it had published a required “decision report”.
Now local campaigners opposed to the scheme say the council has a “moral duty” to refund motorists fined up to £130 for entering an LTN it introduced “ultra vires” – beyond its powers.
A Freedom of Information request shows more than £80,000 of fines were obtained from drivers who entered or exited the Oval LTN.
The One Lambeth group, which is opposed to LTNs, said if the road closures were introduced “illegally” then the fines must also have been made without “proper authority”.
“If the councils admitted the Oval Triangle low traffic neighbourhood was introduced illegally, then they should also admit the fines levied on residents living nearby – including disabled drivers – were imposed without authority,” a spokeswoman said.
“So, they should refund the money they have made. That could mean more than a quarter of a million pounds of fines have been wrongly issued since the LTN was set up last year.”
One Lambeth claims road closures introduced as part of the Government’s “green transport revolution” can slow 999 response times and force traffic onto neighbouring streets creating congestion and pollution, often in poorer areas of the borough.
Tim Buley, QC, for Ms Sheakh, said Lambeth had made a “public acceptance” that the legal orders for the Oval Triangle “were made without authority”.
Tim Mould, QC, for Lambeth, said the council had acknowledged it “jumped the gun” to close the Oval roads before certain required procedures were carried out.
Anne-Marie Irwin, a lawyer at Scott Moncrieff & Associates who is representing Ms Sheakh, said: “My client is pleased that Lambeth have now conceded that they made the Oval Triangle Experimental Traffic Orders without having authority to do so,” she said.
“However this only underlines her concern that Lambeth has failed to follow lawful procedures, including their duty to have regard to the needs of disabled people, when implementing these wide-ranging traffic measures.
“In our submission this is just one example of the way Lambeth has failed to discharge their legal duties when creating the LTNs.”
A council spokesman said: “The council has argued that setting up the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods was fully in line with statutory guidance and national policy objectives.
“In relation to the emergency Oval Low Traffic Neighbourhood, we made an error by not publishing a decision report prior to issuing a traffic order. We acknowledge this fault, but believe the Oval LTN traffic order is not invalidated by this administrative error.
“We reject that these schemes are discriminatory in any way, or installed illegally.”
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