Judge dismisses anti-LTN legal challenge

Council admits making mistakes in public consultation and ‘limitations’ with LTN data but judge rules in its favour, reports James Cracknell

Fox Lane low-traffic neighbourhood
The Fox Lane low-traffic neighbourhood between Southgate and Palmers Green

A High Court judge has rejected a legal challenge brought by a local resident against one of Enfield Council’s low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) – while agreeing there were several “deficiencies” in the way the authority consulted on the scheme.

In a verdict which the council says it welcomes, seven grounds for challenge against the traffic orders used to implement the Fox Lane LTN trial from September 2020 were dismissed by Justice Eyre on the basis they’d not caused “substantial prejudice” to the claimant, local resident and business owner Sophia Bouchti.

However, at the court hearing which took place on 25th October the council also accepted “there were some errors” relating to the public consultation process which preceded its decision earlier this year to make the Fox Lane Quieter Neighbourhood – the official name for the LTN – permanent.

Sophia had brought the case on behalf of anti-LTN group One Community Against the Fox Lane LTN, which said in a statement following the judge’s verdict this week that it was “very disappointed” by the verdict but emphasised that it should not be seen as a validation of the council’s decision to make the LTN permanent.

In a long written judgement published on Wednesday, 9th November, Justice Eyre spelt out his reasons for dismissing the seven grounds for Sophia’s challenge against the council’s Fox Lane LTN traffic orders.

The first two grounds alleged procedural failings in the council’s public consultation – one concerning the failure to publish a ‘statement of reasons’ on the council’s website for the first two months of the initial six-month consultation and another alleging that a revised traffic order published in June 2021 should have triggered a fresh six-month round of consultation.

The judge said the council accepted there was an “oversight” in the failure to publish the statement of reasons between 26th August and 26th October 2020 and that this amounted to “a failure to comply with the requirements”. He added that the traffic order issued on 30th June 2021 – which the council claimed was issued to correct a misdescribed address – was not a variation of the previous traffic order and that “it follows that the stance it initially adopted was a failure to comply with the relevant requirements”.

However, on these two grounds the judge concluded “there is no suggestion that the council’s failures prevented the claimant herself from learning fully about the proposals or from advancing her objections to them”.

The third ground was a claim the council “failed to conduct a fair consultation” as a result of the previously identified failures. Because the council initially said its June 2021 traffic order did not supersede the previous order, Sophia said the council had “limited the scope of objections” that could be made afterwards. She also said traffic count data should have been released prior to the publication of a report recommending the LTN be made permanent.

But the judge said the council’s failure to disclose the data and surveys “did not render the consultation process unfair” and that “the claimant’s ability to give a response identifying the adverse effect on her business activities was not dependent” on having advance sight of the data but instead “her practical experience”.

He added: “The exercise of deciding whether to make the experimental measures permanent was not a matter of counting heads but of considering the arguments. The arguments were clearly identified and were considered.”

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The fourth and fifth grounds alleged the council failed to properly consider certain aspects of the LTN scheme, including “the danger posed by long vehicles entering the QN area and having to reverse”. But the judge said he was “satisfied there was sufficient consideration” of the issue “and of road safety matters generally”.

The sixth ground was Sophia’s suggestion of bias from key council decision makers owing to their membership of the Facebook group run by pro-LTN campaign group Better Streets for Enfield. The judge concluded that although senior officers Richard Eason and Sarah Cary were members of the Facebook group they only joined to “gain visibility” and did not post messages, while the fact that (then) deputy leader Ian Barnes and councillor Ergin Erbil were members was not “evidence that a particular councillor is pre-disposed to support policies” and that councillors were elected “to some extent on the footing that they will approach issues of a particular kind”.

The final ground of challenge was alleged “irrationality” in the council’s decision-making based on “limitations” in the data gathered. While “the council accepts there were limitations in the data” the judge said that “it took steps to address a number of those limitations” and “it will almost always be the position that there is more information which could be obtained or further investigations which could be undertaken before a public body makes a decision”.

Justice Eyre added: “The test is not whether a reasonable council could have decided to obtain more information before taking the decision to make the experimental orders permanent but whether a reasonable council could have been satisfied that it had sufficient information on which properly to take the decision.”

In response to the High Court judgement, One Community said in a statement: “Sophia Bouchti […] is very disappointed about the judgment, however the decision was made on points of law, not the merits of the LTN.

“The judge stated Enfield Council had failed to comply with statutory requirements; he drew this conclusion from information supplied by One Community together with a last-minute submission lodged by the council. In this document the council confirmed under-counting of vehicles travelling under 10kmph; it also confirmed the council had failed to pass on this information to the air quality consultants which meant the air quality assessment is invalid.

“Clearly, this is very disheartening judgment for Sophia and all those whose lives have been made much worse by the Fox Lane LTN. Given the stated purpose was ‘reducing the overall volume of traffic’ and ‘speed of traffic’ which in turn ‘will also improve air quality within the area’ it is a damning indictment of Enfield Council that none of these were adequately assessed.

“A lot of the issues Sophia and One Community sought to remedy may have been resolved if the council had run a thorough consultation with residents.”

A council spokesperson said: “The High Court has dismissed each one of the seven grounds of the legal challenge brought against the council. This judgement is welcomed, and the council are now proposing a number of planned changes to the project, including permits for Blue Badge holders living in the area and increasing access for emergency services through the use of additional ANPR [automatic numberplate recognition] cameras, as requested by the London Ambulance Service.

“The quieter neighbourhood approach reflects both London and national government policy for enabling more sustainable transport choices. The council remains confident in the delivery processes in place and clear about the importance of assessing the merits of individual projects.

“The council will maintain its commitment to bringing forward projects that enable more choices around sustainable forms of travel, creating streets for a healthier future.”

One Community’s legal challenge was funded via donations from more than 1,000 people who opposed the LTN, however it’s understand that more still needs to be raised to cover the full cost.

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