A High Court judge has today rejected a legal challenge to low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) introduced last year in the London Borough of Lambeth, ruling that the council acted in line with regulations governing their implementation and that they did not discriminate against people with disabilities.
The case had been brought, with the backing of the anti-LTN group One Lambeth, by a disabled resident of the borough, Sofia Shaekh, who lives close to the boundary of the Railton LTN in Brixton, and who relies heavily on using her car for transport.
She had claimed that such interventions, aimed at restricting through traffic in residential areas while allowing access to people who live there, had disproportionately affected people who are dependent on cars to get around, saying that displacement of traffic to roads outside LTNs increased journey times, caused additional stress, and impaired quality of life.
Ms Sheakh, who spent a month in a coma last year after contracting COVID-19, claimed that the traffic orders under which the council had created a number of LTNs were unlawful and should be quashed, and that its officers had not followed the duties imposed on them under the Equality Act 2010. Furthermore, she also said that the council had not carried out adequate consultation.
While LTNs have been in existence for decades, many have been installed in a number of London boroughs and in towns and cities outside the capital as a response to the coronavirus pandemic and with the help of funding from the government, which sees encouraging active travel and reducing travel by car as a key part of its plans for recovery from COVID-19.
In the case of Lambeth, the borough revealed plans in 2019 to install permanent LTNs, and accelerated those last year as part of its response to the pandemic.
A number of legal challenges have been launched to try and have LTNs removed, with the most high-profile case involving Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s Streetspace programme, including guidance to boroughs on LTns, where Transport for London won an appeal earlier this month against an earlier decision that had ruled the programme unlawful.
In his decision, handed down this morning, Mr Justice Kerr acknowledged that “Opinion is divided on whether they [LTNs] are, on balance, a good thing or not,” adding, “The court takes no part in that debate and is wholly neutral on the merits or otherwise of LTNs.”
The judge rejected a claim that the experimental traffic orders [ETOs] creating the LTNs were not lawful because they were claimed to be permanent rather than experimental, and also that the council had not complied with the requirements of the Equality Act.
“In my judgment, the evidence is clear,” the judge said. Referring to the fact that Lambeth already had plans to introduce LTNs prior to the pandemic, he said: “It was the coronavirus epidemic and the resulting statutory guidance that led to abandonment of that conventional and leisurely approach to introducing LTNs.
“The Secretary of State urged local authorities to take radical and almost immediate measures to enhance walking and cycling and pointed to their power to do so using TTOs [temporary traffic orders] and ETOs.”
Dismissing the claim that the council had not adequately taken account of the needs of people who rely on cars for transport, he said 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.”
Another claim was that the council had been “irrational” in selecting which organisations to consult.
“The claimant says it was irrational to consult Wheels for Wellbeing but not groups such as ‘dasl’ (which stands for Disability Advice Service Lambeth) specifically representing disabled people in Lambeth,” the judge noted.
Finding that ground of challenge “without merit,” he said: “There is nothing irrational about consulting a cycling organisation about measures to encourage cycling. ‘
“The omission to consult the charity dasl 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.”
Reacting to the decision, Councillor Claire Holland, leader of Lambeth Council, said: “We welcome the judge’s decisive ruling today, 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 judgment 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,” Councillor Holland continued.
“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,” she concluded.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.