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Driver loses case over road system

Sofia Sheakh in her wheelchair on a road near her local town
Sofia Sheakh in her wheelchair on a road near her local town Image credit:

A woman with a physical disability has lost her case against Lambeth Council after she took them to court over a new traffic system which impacted her travel.

Sofia Sheakh suffers chronic pain and needs to drive her car, walking long distances is not an option for her.

The 47-year-old was in a coma for 30 days last year when she contracted Covid-19, but apart from her health Sofia had another battle on her hands.

When the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) was introduced in her area she took Lambeth Council to the High Court arguing the system had ‘negative impacts’ on people with disabilities and the public were not properly consulted about the scheme.

But on Monday Sheakh lost her case when it was dismissed by Justice Kerr.

Kerr said the LTNs were 'made by way of a genuine experiment', and 'not a decision to introduce the LTNs on a permanent basis'.

The judge added they were introduced to 'respond to the urgency of the situation in May 2020, when public transport was largely shunned and cycling and walking (were) in need of encouragement'.

The plan was to introduce the LTNs for a period lasting around three years, but the Covid-19 pandemic encouraged the Department for Transport (DfT) to ask 'local authorities to take radical and almost immediate measures to enhance walking and cycling'.

Kerr said the government’s guidance 'led to abandonment of that conventional and leisurely approach to introducing LTNs'

The judge acknowledged Sheakh 'has demonstrated that her particular problem of dependence on car transport with increased journey times and stress was not identified until after the operative decision' by Lambeth.

However, he went on state Lambeth council had not 'thereby or at all' breached the Equality Act.

In a statement the leader of Lambeth Council, Claire Holland, 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 judgment is clear on that, and particularly that considerations of equality were accounted for at the earliest stage of the LTN.'       

Sheakh’s lawyers said the new road system affects people with physical disabilities and have 'seriously adversely affected their ability to travel within and across the borough'. 

In 2016 Sheakh was diagnosed with chronic sarcoidosis, four years later, in 2020, she spent almost six weeks in a coma after contracting Covid-19.

In April, Ms Sheakh said: 'It has rendered me bed-ridden for days sometimes, in chronic pain, I have to now use a wheelchair to go any distance and my mobility is significantly compromised.

'I used to horse ride, and I've climbed mountains, and done Mount Sinai and canoeing and sailed.

'I've been an active person and I can't do that anymore but I'm not an anti-cyclist. I'm not anti-walking or anti-active. I'm actually quite an eco-friendly recycling nut environmentalist-type person.

'But my life was turned upside down in 2016 and my life was turned upside down again last year when Covid hit.

'I got Covid and I got it bad. I was in a coma and in the hospital for months but I'm a stubborn old girl and I survived it and when I came out of hospital my own road was closed to me.' 

Since the LTNs have been introduced Sheakh has been forced to find a new route to and from her home.

She added: 'I live on a cul-de-sac on my road so I can come out of my drive but if I turn left I will be fined - which is the closest way to the shops, the cinema, doctor's surgery, the park, the closest way to half my life.

'It would be great if we were all born equal and could all cycle and walk but the world doesn't work like that.

'I'm disabled now - I hurt when I walk, I hurt when I drive, but it gets me to where I need to go quicker - or so I thought.

'What was once a six minute journey is now 22 minutes because I have to go around the most stupid, long, convoluted way because I can't turn left and drive straight there.'

There are plans for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods to be introduced across the country as part of a £225 million government scheme.