Cycling UK has confirmed it will be taking legal action against West Sussex County Council’s decision to remove a cycle lane introduced during lockdown.
The UK charity said the removal of the cycle lane along Upper Shoreham Road in Shoreham-by-Sea is “irrational and unlawful”, and yesterday, 24th February, it submitted an application for the council’s decision to be judicially reviewed.
At the heart of Cycling UK’s challenge is the council’s ‘failure’ to carry out an equality impact assessment before making the decision to remove the cycle lane, ignoring the statutory guidance on the management of their highways network, said the charity.
Cycling UK said West Sussex CC did not consider the impact on young people when the council decided to remove the cycle lane. It also pointed out evidence gathered by the council showed there had been ‘no negative impact’ on journey times or increase in air pollution during the period of the cycle lane’s installation.
The decision to remove the cycle lane was made by councillor Roger Elkins, West Sussex County Council’s cabinet member for highways and infrastructure. According to an FOI investigation, Elkins never visited the bike route, said Cycling UK. Justification for his decision appears to have been based on a small number of complaints about increased congestion, however, these complaints are not borne out by the data gathered by the council.
The council decided to remove the temporary cycle route on 24th November, only two months after the lane was officially opened on 25th September. It was removed over a period of several days in mid-January.
“When the council introduced this cycle lane, people soon changed how they travelled locally,” said Duncan Dollimore Cycling UK’s head of campaigns. “Children began cycling to school, pensioners felt safe to ride into town and commuters started swapping cars and public transport for their bikes. It was a complete success story.
“Cllr Elkins’ decision to remove the lane five weeks later without considering the evidence showing the lane’s benefits is contrary to statutory guidance. It demonstrates a fundamentally flawed process, which Cycling UK would argue, is both irrational and unlawful.”
Commenting on the benefits of the cycle lane along Upper Shoreham Road Clive Andrews, a member of Shoreham-By-Cycle, said: “For a few weeks, the people of Shoreham-by-Sea had a taste of what it felt like to be able to choose safer, more protected journeys by bike, on this key route across our town. The pop-up lanes had quite an impact: doubling cycling levels, and in some weeks even trebling them.
“The project was helping our town to consider how a better future for local journeys may look – especially for children’s journeys to school. WSCC’s decision to remove the lanes came as a surprise, given the huge increase in cycle traffic, and the potential that was there to leave them in situ while options for longer-term changes could be explored.”
“The news that Cycling UK has been looking at the legalities of this decision is really interesting, and we appreciate the efforts of Cycling UK in examining the implications of what’s happened here in West Sussex.”
Cycling UK is funding its legal challenge via its Cyclist Defence Fund and said it is concerned West Sussex CC’s actions could be mirrored by other local authorities under pressure from vocal minorities resistant to improvements in their community.
“Despite the public’s enthusiasm for having safer routes to walk and cycle along, it is frustrating to see the admirable ambitions of some councils wither away at the first sign of criticism,” said Dollimore.
“If councils decide to make baseless knee jerk decisions with no evidence, then they need to realise there will be consequences. They should expect to be challenged because such arbitrary and irrational decision making cannot be allowed to go unchecked.”
Read the February issue of BikeBiz below: