High Court rejects challenge to London congestion charges

By John Aston,Pa News
Friday 20 December 2013 04:12

A High Court challenge to Mayor Ken Livingstone's scheme to charge motorists £5 to drive into central London was defeated today.

Westminster Council and the Kennington Association, with the backing of Kensington and Chelsea borough council, asked a judge to block the congestion–charging project, which is set to be introduced in February.

But Mr Justice Maurice Kay told a packed court: "Westminster's application for judicial review has been dismissed and the Kennington residents' application for permission to apply for judicial review has been refused."

Today's decision will come as a relief to Mr Livingstone, who just a few days ago had to abandon his High Court challenge to the Government's part privatisation of the Tube with a legal costs bill unofficially estimated at up to £4 million.

During a six–day hearing, estimated to have cost about £3 million, the congestion scheme was condemned by its opponents as unlawful and likely to increase air pollution and adversely affect the quality of city life.

The Freight Transport Association said: "We are very disappointed as we werehoping this action would have given the Mayor time to reflect on the whole scheme.

"We shall continue our campaign to have commercial vehicles excluded from the scheme. Congestion charging will not reduce commercial vehicle operations in London by a single vehicle and will just put up costs."

Mr Livingstone welcomed the court's ruling, saying: "We are happy that our entire approach to the introduction of congestion charging, which has involved an unprecedented level of consultation, has been vindicated.

"We now look forward to being free to proceed with addressing the problems of congestion in London without the distraction of legal proceedings."

Councillor Kit Malthouse, deputy leader of Westminster Council, said: We are deeply disappointed with this ruling. We brought this case along with a number of other bodies based on good legal advice and because congestion charging will have a substantial impact on our businesses and residents.

"We still believe that a major scheme of this nature should not be implemented without more effective scrutiny and we question whether Britain's first congestion charge should be introduced in a complex city such as London.

"We believe it was right to bring the case. It was in the interests of central London."

During a recent hearing, Roger Henderson QC, appearing for Westminster, accused the mayor of failing to carry out a full and efficient consultation before giving the multi–million pound scheme the go–ahead.

He told the judge that the mayor's decision was flawed and breached human rights because he had also failed to order an environmental impact assessment, or hold a public inquiry.

Those failures meant it had been impossible to consider fully all relevant matters, including local traffic management, parking, local air quality and the effect the scheme would have on all those who lived and worked in the city.

But lawyers for the mayor argued he had discharged his legal responsibilities in "a rigorous and conscientious manner".

Charles George QC said Mr Livingstone had sought appropriate advice by recruiting a team of experts and by going to outside specialists on traffic and air pollution.

The mayor had taken advice not only from his own legal team but also from independent counsel.

There had been wide consultations, with exhibitions and public meetings, and the mayor had received all objections to the scheme personally.

The AA said: "We are disappointed at this decision. This is potentially the biggest transport development ever to affect drivers across the south of England, yet there has been no independent examination to establish whether the basic assumptions of those promoting it make sense.

"It is unacceptable that the very people promoting the scheme are the ones to decide whether it goes ahead."