Transport revolution creates ‘perfect storm’ for disabled people, court hears

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Road closures introduced as part of Grant Shapps’s green transport revolution created the "perfect storm" for disabled people who rely on cars to get about, the High Court has heard.

Lambeth Council was accused of badly affecting "the quality of life" by ignoring the needs of those who cannot walk or cycle when they created a series of low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs).

Sophia Sheakh, 47, who suffers chronic sarcoidosis and has to use a car to travel to hospital appointments, is seeking a judicial review into how her south London council introduced road closures.

During a two-day of hearing at the Law Courts in London, Mr Justice Kerr was told town hall bosses had a "fundamental problem" because they focused "almost exclusively on the benefits of LTNs to those living within them and those able to take advantage of non-motorised transport" at the expense of the "acute disadvantages" suffered by those living nearby.

Legal documents presented to the court say the south London council also failed to properly consider how LTNs create an "increase in traffic congestion and journey times … across the borough".

Ms Sheakh, who has tumours in her lungs and experiences chronic pain due to the disease affecting her breathing, lymphatic system and joints, cannot cycle or walk. It was claimed the car is "vital" for her but journey times and pollution have increased meaning she experiences pain being stuck in her vehicle for longer periods.

The Labour-run council began introducing LTNs in 2019, but the project was "accelerated" when Mr Shapps, the Transport Secretary, offered £250 million in the belief they could help promote social distancing in the pandemic.

"For disabled persons, in particular, these issues create a perfect storm," Tim Buley, QC, representing Ms Sheakh, said.

He added how LTNs have a "very severe effect on the quality of life" for those disabled people who have no choice but to use cars and taxis.

He said even one of the council’s witnesses, Dr Anna Goodman, admits cars were "mobility aids" for those disabled people "who lack realistic alternatives".

Her statement says "these people face the inconvenience of longer travel times" and it was important to "take feedback and consider when mitigation measures may be possible".

But Mr Buley said it was "irrational" that one of the only organisations the council consulted about how road closures would affect disabled people was Wheels for Wellbeing, a campaign group representing and promoting disabled cyclists.

Tim Mould, QC, representing Lambeth, said LTNs allowed the council to "test in practice" the effect they had through “ongoing monitoring” on different groups, including disabled people.

He said council officials would "react sensitively to what we discover and mitigate the impact on those badly affected".

The LTNS were "traffic experiments" intended to "remove or restrain" cars by requiring "through traffic to use alternative routes or cause those driving cars to seek alternative modes of transport", such as walking or cycling, he continued,

He added they were an experiment "because there was uncertainty to the degree of displacement of traffic from one location to another".

The council’s skeleton argument says there was "reasonable expectation" that road closures "would not disproportionately affect people with one or more protected characteristics" under the Equality Act 2010, including disabled people.

It adds how Ms Sheakh is correct in claiming that by October last year the council had not conducted an equality impact assessment of their effect, but that does not mean Lambeth was in breach of its public service equality duty or failed to meet its requirements for the disabled, which it is required to do under the Equality Act 2010.

Ms Sheakh has challenged LTNs set up in Streatham Hill, Railton and the St Matthews area of the borough.

Mr Justice Kerr will deliver his ruling at a later date.