High Court challenge to major shake-up of traffic flow in Norwich city centre is rejected
PUBLISHED: 12:03 24 February 2014 | UPDATED: 19:42 24 February 2014
Campaigners protesting against a shake-up of the way traffic flows through Norwich city centre have had their High Court bid to overturn the proposals thrown out by a judge.
Members of the Chapelfield Action Group had hoped a judge would allow a judicial review of the council’s decision to make Chapel Field North two-way in an attempt to improve bus journey times.
That proposal is part of a £1.45m city-centre traffic plan and would see the removal of a pavement on the south side of Chapel Field North closest to Chapelfield Gardens.
The plans would also see St Stephens Street and part of Surrey Street closed to traffic, with transport bosses saying it will speed up bus times and ease congestion. The proposals would also see a bus lane introduced in Grapes Hill.
The Norwich Highways Agency Committee, made up of Norfolk County Council and Norwich City Council, approved the plans in March last year.
But Peter Jackson, who fears the plan will turn the historic Regency Street where he lives into a rat run for buses and heavy lorries, spearheaded a judicial review challenge at London’s High Court - accusing the councils of acting illegally.
They claim the noise and vibration of an endless flow of heavy vehicles would threaten the foundations and fabric of some of the most attractive and historically important homes in the city.
But they had each and every one of their arguments rejected by Judge Elizabeth Cooke.
Mr Jackson argued that the councils had failed in their European law obligation to carry out full ‘screening’ investigations as to the potential environmental impact of the proposals.
But, declaring that complaint ‘unarguable’, the judge said there was ‘nothing in these two schemes of relatively minor traffic management’ to bring them within the scope of the European Environmental Impact Assessments Directive.
The councils had, in fact, carried out a screening exercise in relation to Chapelfield North and the judge rejected Mr Jackson’s plea that they should also have considered the ‘cumulative impact’ of the two schemes.
Mr Jackson also pointed to the potential impact of rumbling buses and lorries on the area’s ‘fragile’ regency buildings. He claimed the councils had carried out only a ‘generic analysis’ of the threat to their fabric.
Council figures indicated that traffic moving along Chapelfield North would be reduced by 25pc, but Mr Jackson argued that took account of only the overall quantity of traffic, not the greater vibration and noise caused by increased numers of buses and HGVs.
But the judge said: “It is unarguable that these issues were not carefully considered”.
Although Mr Jackson clearly ‘disagreed’ with the council’s conclusions, his objections had been ‘thoroughly aired and considered’ during a consultation process and taken into account by the councils.
She added: “Mr Jackson’s views on noise and vibration do not provide grounds for judicial review.”
Mr Jackson also argued that the councils’ ‘modelling’ of the potential impact of the schemes was fatally flawed because it assumed that traffic pressure on the area would be relieved by a northern distributor road which might, in fact, never make it off the drawing board.
However, describing that complaint as simply ‘unrealistic’, the judge concluded: “In theory there could be traffic modelling for an infinite number of potential outcomes”.
David Harrison, Norfolk County Council’s cabinet member for environment, transport, development and waste, said: “This is excellent news and means that we will be able to crack on with these important projects that will change Norwich city centre for the better.
“Not only will these changes cut bus journey times and improve reliability, but the removal of general traffic from city streets will help secure Norwich’s place as one of the country’s top retail destinations.”
Mike Stonard, Norwich City Council’s cabinet member for environment, development and transport, said: “I am pleased that the judge’s decision confirms the confidence we’ve had in the plans and our processes all along.
“It underlines the integrity and care with which our officers have put together the scheme and dealt with the original consultation and following legal challenge.
“We can now concentrate on delivering these improvements for the benefit of the city and its transport network.”
The Chapel Field Action Group said they were “disappointed by the judgement and would continue to seek legal advice.
Jane Ross, on behalf of the group, said: “We feel that the proposed traffic scheme will have a huge impact on the houses, where many are listed, from noise, air pollution and vibration because of the greatly increased number of buses and HGVs.
“The number of buses passing the Gardens will increase from approximately 250 to 630 buses in a two way flow between 7am and 7pm. All HGVs supplying the city centre and the Chapel Field Mall will also use this narrow road.
“The listed heritage Gardens will suffer from the increase in traffic and the removal of the adjacent pavement. We are further concerned over safety in Chapel Field North should an emergency vehicle be required to attend.
“We do think that an environmental impact assessment should have been done and alternative schemes produced.”