Blind woman’s High Court challenge against council begins

Joanna Toner
Joanna Toner

A new city centre kerbing scheme in Lisburn, being challenged by a blind woman, involved no known impact assessment, the High Court heard on Tuesday.

Counsel for Joanna Toner claimed consultation around the project in the city was flawed, with partially-sighted people unaware how low pavement edges would be.

Ms Toner is taking legal action over the 30mm kerbs created as part of a major revitalisation initiative. Her lawyers claim it could pose safety risks as guide dogs may fail to recognise the difference in street levels.

Academic research recommending that the edges should be at least 60mm in height was not properly considered, they allege. Mrs Toner is seeking a judicial review by claiming she has been discriminated against on disability grounds.

Mrs Toner expressed fears she could be excluded from parts of her own city centre due to the risk of stepping out and being hit by traffic.

She was back in court on Wednesday with friends and members of the blind community for her legal challenge against the new Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.

Guide Dogs NI and the Royal National Institute of Blind People in Northern Ireland are all backing her action.

Part of the case involves claims she was not made aware of a consultation process around the street revamp.

It is also argued that the scheme breached both the Disability Discrimination Act and Mrs Toner’s human rights. Mrs Toner’s QC, Neasa Murnaghan, said: “We have no record that that there ever was an (Equality) Impact Assessment in respect to the scheme.”

She claimed the whole process involved a ‘muddled series of miscommunication.’

The barrister also challenged assertions that the 30mm height was made clear at a presentation.

Mrs Murnaghan argued Ms Toner and other partially sighted people either didn’t hear or didn’t realise the pavement edges were to be so low.

“In their understanding there was to be conventional height kerbs,” she told Mr Justice Maguire.

It was claimed that blind people had “missed the boat” because they failed to raise the issue at the consultation meeting.

Referring to the alleged attitude of one of those behind the scheme, Mrs Murnaghan added: “Having missed the opportunity it was too late to take into account their objections.”