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High Court rejects challenge to Low Traffic Neighbourhood in London borough

A High Court judge has rejected a challenge by a disabled woman who claimed that the London Borough of Lambeth had implemented Low Traffic Neighbourhoods unlawfully.

In Sheakh, R v London Borough of Lambeth [2021] EWHC 1745, the claimant argued that Lambeth had wrongly used Experimental Traffic Orders, breached the public sector equality duty and road traffic regulations, and failed to consult the public adequately. However, Mr Justice Timothy Kerr dismissed the claim on all counts.

Ms Sheakh lives near the boundary of one of the LTNs introduced last year in Lambeth and is heavily reliant on car transport due to a disability that restricts her mobility.

At a hearing earlier this month, Ms Sheakh told the High Court that she and others similarly dependant on travel by car had suffered disproportionately from the introduction of LTNs in Lambeth because of increased journey times, added stress and loss of quality of life.

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Low Traffic Neighbourhoods were introduced by a number of London boroughs and councils across the UK last year to encourage people to travel by bike or foot instead of public transport during the pandemic. Lambeth used Experimental Traffic Orders (ETOs) and Temporary Traffic Orders (TTOs) to introduce its schemes.

Ms Sheakh brought the following grounds of challenge:

1. The Experimental Traffic Orders (ETOs) are invalid because they were "not in truth and in substance experimental at all".
2. Lambeth breached the public sector equality duty to have "due regard" to the legislative goals in section 149 of the 2010 Act in the case of all the ETOs under challenge.
3. Lambeth did not have regard to the matters set out in section 122 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.
4. The degree and type of consultation undertaken was not adequate, and that in consequence, the ETOs for the Streatham Hill LTN and the Railton and St Matthew's LTN "are unlawful and should be quashed".

Turning firstly to the contention that the ETOs were invalid because they were not in fact experimental, Kerr J said he found no merit in the arguments.

Lambeth's "ETOs are not shown to be other than genuine by the fact that two of the three LTNs began life as the product of TTOs rather than ETOs," said the judge.
Temporary Traffic Orders "are a recognised way of introducing urgent change and the government specifically commended the use of TTOs as a way to respond to the urgency of the situation in May 2020 when public transport was largely shunned and cycling and walking in need of encouragement," said Kerr J.

The judge accepted that the LTNs had negatively impacted Ms Sheakh's ability to travel, given the increased journey times and stress. He acknowledged that this "was not identified until after the operative decision," but Ms Sheakh had "not demonstrated that Lambeth thereby, or at all, breached the public sector equality duty".

Mr Justice Kerr granted permission to bring the judicial review claim but dismissed the claim on all counts.

Cllr Claire Holland, Leader of Lambeth Council, said the council welcomed the judge's "decisive ruling".

Cllr Holland added: "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.

Lambeth was glad that the judgment was clear that "considerations of equality were accounted for at the earliest stage of the LTN," said Cllr Holland. "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.

She added: "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."

Adam Carey

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