Disabled woman hits out at road closures ‘experiment’
When Sofia Sheakh ordered her Motability car, she had one condition – it had to meet her strict green requirements.
“I feel very strongly about the environment so I bought a hybrid car,” she said. “I had to save a bit more, but it’s important to do your bit.”
The car the disabled 47-year-old mother of one took possession of this year was meant to help her easily attend her numerous hospital and doctor appointments, as well offer a modicum of freedom.
But since her south London council began closing roads as part of Grant Shapps’s “green transport” revolution she claims she has become a prisoner in her home.
Miss Sheakh, a former employment workshop tutor, has now filed legal papers at the High Court asking a judge to rule that Lambeth Council has illegally introduced so-called ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’ (LTNs) by not taking account of disabled people’s needs, as well as increasing congestion and pollution.
Referring to experimental traffic orders used by the council as a legal mechanism to shut streets, she said: “If this is an experiment then we are the canaries in the coal mine, and we are choking.”
For 28 years, Miss Sheakh has lived on Shakespeare Road, which links Herne Hill to Loughborough Junction.
In 2016, she was diagnosed with pulmonary sarcoidosis, which causes breathing difficulties due to non-cancerous tumours (granulomas) growing in her lungs. She takes 12 tablets a day, including opioids to combat severe pain.
In March she contracted Covid 19 and was placed in an induced coma for 30 days. But when she emerged after battling for her life, she discovered LTNs had “transformed” her neighbourhood “for the worse”.
She said: “What used to be a short drive to my doctor or St Thomas’s Hospital can now take three times as long, causing intense pain and exhaustion to me.
“I use a wheelchair. I can’t get on a bike. I struggle to walk. Public transport is also very difficult for me. I have to drive.”
Roads across London have been blocked by planters in recent months, including in Oval, South London
Credit: Paul Grover
She is convinced LTNs are yet another example of the “gentrification” of London, although she describes it as “supposed green gentrification”.
“Parents post online how lovely it is that their children can play in the streets. On my road, I can’t now open my windows, thick with grime in just four months, because of oppressive pollution from increased traffic caused by their LTNs.
“They want village life in a capital city, and so force the rest of us to breathe in more fumes.
“If they don’t like sat navs directing motorists through their streets they should sue the manufacturers, not make us suffer.”
Legal documents filed by Miss Sheakh’s lawyers claim the council acted beyond its powers – or ultra vires – in closing roads.
They say ‘experimental traffic orders’ are not experimental but instead a “means to get over procedural hurdles” – such as full consultation – normally required to ban cars from streets.
They claim the council failed to make adequate provision for Miss Sheakh’s disability, special characteristics protected under the Equality Act.
The document concludes that Miss Sheakh “has been treated less favourably than able-bodied residents of Lambeth” in breach of her human rights. It urges the judge to quash the council’s powers to close roads and hold a judicial review.
Anne-Marie Irwin, a partner at lawyers Rook Irwin Sweeney, said: “Sofia argues that Lambeth failed to discharge their duty to consult residents in advance of creating LTNs, that they failed to comply with the public sector equality duty and the LTNs have led to discrimination against her and they breach her human rights.
“She also contends that the orders are not, in fact ‘experimental’ as described and that this mechanism has been used to bring about permanent changes to traffic in the area, which have been planned for some time."