In a case which underlined the limits of judicial review, a campaigner who feared that a controversial city traffic management scheme would turn the historic Regency street where he lives into a rat run for buses and heavy lorries has had his complaints of illegality rejected by the High Court.
Peter Jackson’s home in Norwich is one of many of architectural and historic interest in an area which is much admired for its listed properties. He objected after Norfolk County Council and Norwich City Council proposed the Norwich Area Transport Strategy (NATS), a scheme designed to ease traffic congestion and to improve bus routes into the city centre.
As part of NATS, the Councils planned to add a one-way bus lane to part of the city’s northern ring road and to close another street to traffic, save buses and heavy goods vehicles. The scheme caused consternation amongst residents who said that the noise and vibration of an endless flow of heavy vehicles would threaten the fabric of some of the most historically important homes in the city.
Mr Jackson argued that the Councils had failed in their duty under European law to carry out ‘screening’ investigations as to the potential environmental impact of the proposals. However, declaring that complaint ‘unarguable’, the Court found that there was ‘nothing in these two schemes of relatively minor traffic management’ to bring them within the scope of the European Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.
The Councils had in fact carried out a screening exercise in relation to one of the affected streets and the Court rejected Mr Jackson’s plea that they should also have considered the ‘cumulative impact’ of the wider scheme. Arguments that the Councils had only carried out a ‘generic analysis’ of the threat to the fabric of ‘fragile’ Regency buildings were also dismissed.
The Councils’ forecasts indicated that traffic flow in one street would be reduced by 25 per cent, but Mr Jackson argued that that ignored the increased proportion of heavy vehicles. However, the Court observed, “It is unarguable that these issues were not carefully considered.”
Mr Jackson also argued that the Councils’ ‘modelling’ of the potential impact of the scheme 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 ‘unrealistic’, the Court noted, “In theory, there could be traffic modelling for an infinite number of potential outcomes.”
Although Mr Jackson clearly ‘disagreed’ with the Councils’ conclusions, his objections had been ‘thoroughly aired and considered’ during a consultation process and his personal views in respect of noise and vibration did not provide grounds for judicial review.