Northern Ireland news

Blind woman wins court challenge over low kerbs in Lisburn

Lisburn woman Joanna Toner, third right, and supporters outside the High Court in Belfast at an earlier hearing. Picture by Alan Erwin/Laganside Media

A blind woman has won a landmark High Court challenge to kerb heights in a new city centre regeneration scheme.

Joanna Toner secured a ruling that the public authority overseeing the project in Lisburn, Co Antrim breached its legal duty to ensure equality for disabled people.

Quashing the decision to lower kerbs to 30mm as part of the multi-million pound revitalisation initiative, a judge held that a rigorous enquiry should have been carried out.

Mr Justice Maguire said: "There is clear evidence that the blind or partially sighted as a group of disabled people were likely to be affected by the way the scheme was designed and built."

Although his verdict does not mean pavements must be ripped up, council representatives are now expected to ensure the process is subjected to a full equality impact assessment.

Mrs Toner (39) declared herself delighted with the outcome in a case she took amid fears of being excluded from parts of her own city centre due to the risk of stepping out and being hit by traffic.

She issued judicial review proceedings against the new Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council over the decisions ratified in 2014.

The public realm scheme is aimed at transforming streets in the centre of Lisburn.

Work involved creating new paving and kerbs in and around Bow Street and the Market Square areas.

Backed by Guide Dogs NI and the Royal National Institute of Blind People in Northern Ireland, Mrs Toner claimed the process surrounding the scheme was unlawful.

The court heard how she is married to a blind man and values her independence.

She stated that previously she could walk around Lisburn city centre without difficulty, accompanied by her guide dog or using a white cane.

But implementation of the public realm scheme, and specifically the kerb heights, dealt a blow to her confidence.

Her lawyers argued that academic research recommending that the edges should be at least 60mm in height was not properly considered.

In a wide-ranging case, they also alleged a flawed consultation process was carried out, bias, unfairness, and breaches of Mrs Toner's human rights.

Mr Justice Maguire dismissed all grounds of challenge apart from claims that an equality impact assessment was not carried out, as required under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

He determined that the Council did not perform its public sector duty to measure the impact of the scheme on disabled people, particular the blind.

The judge pointed out that this is a continuing obligation, but acknowledged the authority may ultimately reach the same conclusion.

Quashing the Council's decision, he added: "This will open the way for the matter to be reconsidered, in the manner already described, with full compliance with the section 75 duty."

Outside court Mrs Toner said: "I'm absolutely delighted the judge has ruled in our favour on this part of the case.

"The Council have to take into consideration the needs of disabled people in every decision they take."

She also expressed relief that her two-and-a-half year legal battle was over.

"It's unbelievable to me that somebody can't understand how dangerous it is not to have a proper distinction between the path and the road," Mrs Toner added.

"If you can't tell where the path ends and the road begins you're just not safe from stepping out into traffic.

"It really knocks your confidence, on many occasions I have ended up on the far side of the road before I even knew I'd got there."

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