The High Court of England and Wales has ruled that a plan to restrict the use of roads by certain vehicles, called the London Streetspace Plan, is unlawful in the decision of United Trade Action Group Limited v Transport for London. We discuss the lessons local authorities should learn from the court's decision.

The London Streetspace Plan

The plan was announced by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn and Transport for London ("TfL") in May 2020, when the UK was emerging from its first lockdown. It involved reducing road traffic by facilitating more road space for pedestrians and cyclists and suppressing motor vehicle traffic, other than buses.

The Mayor and TfL said this was necessary to enable social distancing between street users. The measures were said initially to be temporary, but press releases said they could be made permanent after review by TfL.

The challenge

Two trade bodies representing hackney taxi drivers challenged the plan, the interim guidance issued by TfL to London Boroughs to help them implement the plan, and a specific traffic management order which restricted motor vehicles other than buses on a stretch of the A10. Their claim was brought on five grounds:

  1. The plan failed to distinguish taxis from general traffic and did not respect that taxis are a form of public transport;
  2. TfL and the Mayor failed to have proper regard to the public sector equality duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010;
  3. The plan, guidance and traffic management order constituted a disproportionate interference with the property rights of taxi owners and drivers and was therefore in breach of Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights ("ECHR");
  4. The plan breached the taxi drivers' legitimate expectation to pass and repass on London's roads, and to use lanes reserved for buses; and
  5. The treatment of taxis in the plan, guidance and traffic management order was irrational.

The Mayor and TfL contested all of the grounds, arguing that the taxi drivers' real grievance was that they were not being treated in the same manner as buses. Additionally, they argued that they had undertaken a comprehensive equality impact assessment and that the use of the roads in question did not constitute a property right that could be interfered with in terms of the ECHR.

The decision

The claim succeeded on all grounds other than ground three. On that ground, the court said that the taxi drivers failed to established interference with their possessions within the meaning of the ECHR. Lang J ordered that the plan, the guidance and the traffic management order be quashed.

On ground one, the court said that the plan did not recognise the status and role of taxis as a form of public transport, distinct from other cars. It also pointed out the importance of taxis to people such as the elderly or disabled, or those with heavy luggage, who depend on taxis to get around. The court found in relation to ground two that the equality impact assessment was insufficient to fulfil the public sector equality duty, as it appeared to have been treated as a mere justification of a decision already taken. On grounds four and five, the court said that the plan had breached the taxi drivers' legitimate expectation to drive in bus lanes and that the plan was not a rational response to the issues which arose as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What learning can local authorities take from this?

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a number of local authorities across the UK use traffic management orders and traffic regulation orders (including temporary measures) to make changes to the manner in which roads under their control are used. However, local authorities should not take "advantage of the pandemic to push through, on an emergency basis without consultation, 'radical changes'", as was found to have happened in this case.

The court was especially critical of the fact that the language used to describe the proposals showed that despite being temporary, they were intended to eventually be made permanent. Local authorities must ensure that where temporary traffic regulation measures are relied upon to combat the pandemic, such measures are indeed intended to be temporary and not permanent.

For more information on local authorities' duties in relation to traffic management, contact Johanna Boyd or your usual Brodies contact.