Blind woman hails her court victory on kerbs

Joanna Toner pictured with her husband Barry outside the High Court in Belfast. Pic by Michael Cooper
Joanna Toner pictured with her husband Barry outside the High Court in Belfast. Pic by Michael Cooper

A blind woman has won a landmark challenge over the heights of kerbs in a city centre regeneration scheme.

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

Joanna Toner. INUS1414-WORKS

Joanna Toner. INUS1414-WORKS

Criticising the decision to lower kerbs to 30mm (about 1.2 inches) as part of the multi-million pound town revamp, a judge held a rigorous enquiry should have been carried out.

Mrs Toner has said it is “dangerous” not to have a “proper distinction between the path and the road”.

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, Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council is now expected to ensure the process is subjected to a full equality impact assessment.

Mrs Toner, 39, issued judicial review proceedings in 2014 relating to new paving and kerbs in the Bow Street and Market Square areas.

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 that the kerb heights dealt a blow to her confidence.

Her lawyers argued that academic research recommending that the edges should be at least 60mm (about 2.4 inches) high was not properly considered.

They also alleged a flawed consultation 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 (but acknowledged the authority may ultimately reach the same conclusion).

Delivering his judgement, he said it would “open the way for the matter to be reconsidered”.

Outside court Mrs Toner expressed delight and relief that her two-and-a-half year legal battle was over.

“Its unbelievable to me that somebody can’t understand how dangerous it is,” she declared.

“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 I even knew I’d got there.”

Reacting to the judgement, a spokesperson for Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council said: “The council will now carefully consider the detail of the decision and has no further comment to make at this time.”