Case against London low traffic scheme rejected by High Court judge

Protest group considers appeal after challenge to Lambeth transport plan dismissed

2D4D4Y7 People cycling on the Atlantic Road closure on the 16th September 2020 in Brixton in the United Kingdom. Photo by Sam Mellish
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With bitter battles raging in British neighbourhoods about government-designated low traffic zones, a court has just provided a boost for those promoting the schemes.

A legal challenge against a London borough’s emergency transport plan was rejected by a High Court judge, dealing a blow to the social media-fuelled community campaigns against the nationwide initiative.

The Lambeth Low Traffic Neighbourhood was started in May last year. It had the aim of improving street safety after a pandemic-induced drop in public transport use.

LTNs use number-plate technology to deter car drivers from accessing streets that are barred to all but residents. Those breaking the restrictions face fines.

The mix of traffic-calming measures varies but there are more than 100 schemes in London alone, most set up in the last 12 months. Other English cities to have adopted the schemes include Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle.

The introduction of the scheme during the pandemic, when traffic flows were reduced in Lambeth, south London, prompted a group of disgruntled residents to form a protest network called OneLambeth.

They began a legal challenge, calling the LTN “undemocratic, discriminatory, harmful and hazardous”.

The litigation was launched on behalf of Sofia Sheikh, a Lambeth resident with a debilitating lung condition whose access to her nearest hospital was affected by the low traffic zone, the protesters said.

The rejection of Ms Sheikh’s case on all counts was welcomed by Claire Holland, Labour Party leader on Lambeth Council.

“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,” she said.

Ms Holland said the council had “from the outset” denied allegations of discrimination or illegality, and she welcomed the judgment for making it clear that “considerations of equality were accounted for at the earliest stage”.

She said the council carried out “regular, detailed, open and transparent monitoring of the programme” and had “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 said.

OneLambeth said it would consider appealing the verdict.

“We are disappointed that Justice Kerr has ruled in favour of Lambeth Council, who employed a QC on taxpayers’ money against a disabled resident and Covid survivor. We are in talks with our legal team regarding an appeal,” a representative for the group said.

Watch: the e-scooters boom

LTNs are not the only government measure to reduce road traffic and encourage people to get active. E-scooter trials have started across the UK to cater for the exponential growth in their use.

Here, The National chronicles their rise in popularity in one borough of south London.