High Court Overturns Waltham Forest Council’s Decision To Move Soup Kitchen To Out-Of-Town Site
The organisers of a popular soup kitchen, fighting to save the service being evicted from a town centre site to an out-of-town lay-by, have today won a significant legal battle as a High Court judge ruled that Waltham Forest Council’s decision to revoke their licence after 25 years was unlawful and must be quashed.
The users and organisers of The Christian Kitchen, which currently serves around 80 hot meals per night to vulnerable people, instructed specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to challenge the Council’s decision to revoke their licence of the central Walthamstow site.
The Christian Kitchen argued that the council’s alternative proposal to use an out-of-town site in a lay-by at the Crooked Billet roundabout off the busy north circular road, some 40-50 minutes away, was unsafe and so unsuitable that it would in effect lead to its closure.
Today, High Court judge Mrs Justice Simler DBE ruled in the soup kitchen’s favour and said that the Council’s decision to revoke their licence was unlawful, because they did not properly take into account the likely negative impact on vulnerable service users. She quashed the decision and ordered them to reconsider their proposals.
In the judgment, Justice Simler said: “The Council should have considered the likely impact of its decision on the vulnerable users of the soup kitchen, on the basis that the soup kitchen would close rather than on the wholly unrealistic basis that they would suffer little or no detriment because the soup kitchen could relocate to the lay-by at Crooked Billet.”
A recent survey showed that over 70 per cent of users were homeless and the judge agreed that it was unlikely that they would be able to access public transport to attend the alternative site proposed, stating that the council’s position that there was no evidence to suggest that the relocation will affect users ability to access the soup kitchen “fails to accord with reality or common sense.” The service will now be able to continue running on its central Mission Grove site until any further consultations or reviews are made.
The soup kitchen is a vital service for homeless and vulnerable people and has been run seven-days-per-week for more than 25 years, but the volunteers from 30 churches across the region fear it would be forced to close if the move took place.
An online petition opposing the move already has over 2,100 signatures and can be found here http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/waltham-forest-council-don-t-stop-us-feeding-the-homeless-2
Alex Rook, a specialist lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing the charity on a pro-bono basis, as well as people who use the soup kitchen on a regular basis, whose cases were funded by legal aid, said:
Expert OpinionThe judgment proves what our clients have been saying all along, which is that the Council failed to have regard to the needs of vulnerable users when taking the decision to move the soup kitchen service, which has been situated in Mission Grove for 25 years, to an out-of-town site that our clients have always argued is completely unsuitable.
“The soup kitchen is a vital charitable service for the homeless and vulnerable people in the area and the organisers and users of the service had been left with no choice but to take legal action to stop the move which they believed would lead to its closure.
“As austerity bites and the demand for the soup kitchen rises, the last thing the vulnerable homeless people in this region need is to be asked to ‘move along’ to another part of the road network which is difficult for them to access and they believe to be unsafe.
“The decision to terminate the licence that Christian Kitchen have held for 25 years was a breach of their obligations to elderly and disabled users of the Kitchen under the Equality Act 2010 because the Council failed to have due regard to the needs of vulnerable users, particularly the elderly and disabled. The judge also stated the Council failed to follow its own guidance on the Equality Act, and described the failings as being “at a basic level”.
“An independent report has concluded that ‘it is likely that accidents would be caused by increased pedestrian use’ at the proposed the new site. The Council when assessing the impact of the move had suggested that the users can get to the out of town site by bus, but if people had money for bus fares they wouldn’t need to use the kitchen in the first place.
“There were serious concerns that many of the current users of the service simply wouldn’t be able to get to the proposed new site but this decision ensures that the soup kitchen can now continue to operate at its current site.” Alex Rook - Partner
The soup kitchen is a well-known local institution attracting praise from politicians and is strongly supported locally.
Norman Coe, chair of the trustees of Christian Kitchen, said: “We are delighted with the ruling today which has essentially saved the service from closure. We are now just looking forward to concentrating on providing hot meals to our users rather than the distractions of fighting to save the service.
“We firmly believed that the proposed new location just off the North Circular was simply unsuitable, as it wasn’t safe and was too difficult for vulnerable homeless people to access.
“As trustees, we struggle to understand the failure of the Council to properly engage with us to find a solution that is safe and properly considers the impact that this decision would have had on the most vulnerable members of society. Hopefully, the Council will now work with us to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs.”
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