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Campaigners to challenge scrapping of Tower Hamlets LTN at high court

Deniz Huseyin
07 March 2024
LTN schemes such as Old Bethnal Green Road set to be removed by Tower Hamlets Council
LTN schemes such as Old Bethnal Green Road set to be removed by Tower Hamlets Council

A group campaigning against the scrapping of a Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) in Tower Hamlets has been granted permission for a two-day hearing at the High Court.

Lata year Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman announced plans to remove most of the road closures introduced as part of the borough’s Liveable Streets programme.

Removal of modal filters was among his manifesto pledges before his election in May 2022.

His Aspire party won a majority, replacing the Tower Hamlet’s Labour administration, which had introduced the Liveable Streets to tackle congestion and air pollution and to encourage more residents to cycle, walk and use public transport.

Through CrowdJustice, Campaign group ‘Save Our Safer Streets in Tower Hamlets’ (SOSS) has exceeded its £75,000 target to cover legal costs for the High Court case.

Having read submissions from the group and Tower Hamlets Council, the judge decided that all of their grounds of challenge are arguable, and disagreed with the council’s arguments that the whole case should be dismissed without a hearing.

SOSS said: “Tower Hamlets Council and Transport for London (who joined the case as an Interested Party in support of the campaign) now have a month to send the court their detailed evidence. We will then have a few weeks to submit our own detailed evidence in reply. In the coming weeks, we should also find out the date for the hearing, which we expect to be in the first half of 2024.”

They added: “We will get a chance to argue in court that the decision made in September 2023 to remove the LTNs in Bethnal Green was unlawful. Judges turn down the vast majority of claims for judicial review at this ‘paper submission’ stage, or at least they reject many of the grounds of challenge.”

TfL has brought in Charlotte Kilroy KC to represent their position as an “interested party” at the hearing. “Again, this is a signal that our challenge matters beyond just our local area,” said SOSS. “TfL doesn’t spend money on lawyers to intervene in dodgy or very local legal cases.”

Since July 2022, SOSS has sent an open letter to Lutfur Rahman, organised a petition signed by over 3,000 residents and taken part in two public consultations set up by the council, which found that 75% of respondents were in favour of the LTN schemes.

Rahman has stated his determination to scrap Liveable Streets schemes on Old Bethnal Green Road, Columbia Road and Arnold Circus, removing road closures and making one-way sections two-way again. He said Liveable Streets had “proved controversial, pitting residents against each other” and Tower Hamlets Council would seek “less divisive ways to achieve cleaner air”. 

Installing the LTN cost £2m, and the council estimates that removing it will cost £2.5m. There is currently no capital funding for the Liveable Streets programme within the council’s approved capital programme. So, to remove the Liveable Streets schemes “the capital governance process will need to be completed to secure funding”, said the council.

The council's chief finance officer suggests that costs could be covered by the Parking Control reserve. “Unallocated funds forecast to the end of 2026/27 are sufficient to meet this cost,” it estimates.

Tower Hamlets Council were contacted for a comment.

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