High Court battle looms over Lutfur Rahman's bid to axe low traffic neighbourhoods in Tower Hamlets

Pedal pushers: the westbound cycle lane on Old Bethnal Green Road (Ross Lydall)
Pedal pushers: the westbound cycle lane on Old Bethnal Green Road (Ross Lydall)

The High Court is to hear a challenge from campaigners seeking to prevent an East London borough mayor from ripping out low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs).

A judge has ordered a two-day judicial review hearing later this year after accepting that all seven arguments put forward by the Save Our Safer Streets in Tower Hamlets group have legal merit.

The group said it was a “big step forward”. An attempt by Tower Hamlets council to have the case thrown out was rejected.

It came as the Government on Thursday ordered inspectors into the council to assess how it is being run by independent mayor Lutfur Rahman.

The inspection will look into “concerns” about the council’s budget, constitutional arrangements, senior appointments, use of policy advisors, expansion of the mayor’s office, grants, elections and the decision to bring housing and leisure services in house.

The crowd-funded action was brought after Mr Rahman decided last September to axe three LTNs - in Columbia Road, which houses the popular flower market, Arnold Circus, near Brick Lane, and Old Bethnal Green Road.

Mr Rahman, who was elected on a pro-motorist platform in 2022, argued that the schemes displaced traffic on to main roads “typically lived on by less affluent residents”.

But campaigners argued that he had broken the law by ignoring Government guidance on LTNs, running a “flawed” consultation and decision-making process, and failing to properly consider if removing the LTNs was a good use of £2.5 million of council funds.

The schemes were introduced in 2021 by the borough’s previous Labour mayor, John Biggs. They include cycle lanes, pocket parks, seating areas and large planters that prevent residential streets being used by through traffic.

A total of 1,380 people have pledged almost £68,000 to bring the case, with the target of £75,000 in sight.

Transport for London, which has withheld funds from the council due to it acting in apparent breach of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Londonwide transport strategy, has joined the case as an “interested party”.

Save Our Streets said: “If the judge decides that any of the seven grounds are proven, then [the council’s] decision is likely to be cancelled.

“We hope this will lead to a fundamental rethink by the council, rather than them just deciding again to remove the low traffic neighbourhoods in the borough.”

Jane Harris, spokesperson for Save Our Safer Streets, said “This is a huge achievement for the campaign and all the thousands of people who have contributed so far.

“We’ve been blown away by all the support we’ve received and we want to say a massive ‘thank you’ to the 1,100-plus donors and the legal team who have got us so far.

“We will get a chance to argue in court that the mayor’s decision to remove the LTNs in Bethnal Green was unlawful.”

The crowdfunding appeal is here.