A legal challenge to Lambeth Council’s introduction of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in the borough has been unsuccessful, with a High Court judge turning down the claim on all counts.
More than £35,000 was raised by the One Lambeth campaign group, formed in opposition to LTNs, to fund an application for a judicial review of the council’s decisions to bring in the schemes without prior consultation by means of temporary and experimental traffic orders.
The legal bid was made on behalf of Sofia Sheikh, who lives close to the Railton LTN in Brixton. She was diagnosed with a disabling lung condition in 2016 and has been in hospital after contracting Covid-19. Sheakh, aged 47, who uses a wheelchair, has said that a journey to her local doctor which used to take six minutes now takes about 19.
One Lambeth maintains that the LTNs in Lambeth are divisive, discriminatory against elderly and disabled people, disrupt emergency services, damage businesses and divert traffic to surrounding streets, adding to congestion and pollution.
In his written judgement Mr Justice Kerr said of the two claims brought by Sheakh that the “main focus” of her case was “that she and others similarly dependant on travel by car have suffered disproportionately from the introduction of LTNs within Lambeth, because the displacement of traffic from within the LTNs to the roads outside them leads to a build up of traffic outside them and consequently increased journey times, added stress and loss of quality of life” and that Lambeth had “overlooked” this.
The judgement documents Lambeth’s approval in November 2019 of its Transport Strategy and Implementation Plan, which encompassed LTNs and included an equality impact assessment concluding that the overall effect of the strategy for disabled people would be “positive” because of measures such as increased disabled parking provision and “inclusive cycling initiatives”.
On 9 May 2002 the government in the form of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps issued guidance with the expectation that “local authorities” would “change their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians” in the belief that “such changes will embed altered behaviours and demonstrate the positive effects of active travel” and on 20 May, Lambeth’s then deputy leader and lead member of transport Claire Holland approved a Covid-19 transport programme for the borough.
One of Sheakh’s claims rested on the argument that two of Lambeth’s six LTNs, including Railton, were not truly experimental, as they were originally introduced as temporary changes under a different provision of the relevant 1984 legislation and their effects were not monitored.
“The claimant asks the court to find that Lambeth has, under the guise of ETOs [experimental traffic orders] used them as a mechanism to bring about permanent traffic changes in the area and in such a way as to avoid having to engage in proper public consultation,” the judgement says and concludes “I do not think there is any merit in these arguments”.
The other challenge rested on the view that Lambeth’s October 2019 equalities assessment failed to adequately weigh the disadvantages of the schemes to some communities and road users against the advantages of them. However, the judge “found Lambeth’s submissions compelling and unanswerable” in this respect.
Responding to the news that the the challenge had failed, Claire Holland, who has since become Lambeth’s leader, welcomed the judge’s ruling and said: “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.”
In December, the council said independent traffic monitoring it commissioned “indicate that traffic levels have been cut by over a quarter when taking into account roads inside and on the boundary of Railton low traffic neighbourhood”, with “car traffic levels down on the majority of roads that bound the LTN”.
Holland’s statement added: “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.”
She also pledged that Lambeth will “redouble our efforts to involve all of our communities in a conversation about how we rebalance our streets”.
Image from Lambeth Council. Article updated since publication to include details from the High Court judgement.
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