Red light for traffic control

Posted: 19th May 2016

JamIt is one of the primary duties of local authorities to keep traffic on the move but steps taken to achieve that objective rarely please everyone. In one case which proved the point, a shopkeeper succeeded in a legal challenge to a traffic management plan which drew trade away from her premises.

Totnes in Devon had long been blighted by intractable traffic jams caused by motorists using its narrow streets as a rat run to a larger highway. In an attempt to tackle the problem, the council made a traffic regulation order under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 which transformed the flow of traffic through the town.

The order split local opinion but drew particularly fierce objections from the operators of a community bus service, many of whose passengers were elderly or disabled, and from local traders who feared that their businesses would suffer. A judicial review challenge to the order, brought before the High Court by one trader on behalf of a local action group, succeeded on the basis that, by virtue of Regulation 9 of the Local Authorities Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996, a public inquiry should have been held before the order was made.

Before the Court of Appeal, the council argued that the requirement to hold a public inquiry had not been triggered because the changes made to traffic flow did not amount to a ‘restriction’ on the passage of public service vehicles. However, in rejecting the challenge, the Court noted that the order would require community buses to take a much more circuitous route around the town. The conclusion that that amounted to a restriction accorded with common sense.