Cycling UK takes court action over “unlawful” cycle lane removal

Cycling UK has upped the pressure on “irrational” opposition of cycling schemes with the announcement that it will take legal action over West Sussex County Council’s decision to remove a popular cycle lane introduced during the lockdown.

The charity applied for a judicial review on Wednesday against the removal of the Upper Shoreham Road scheme, which had been well received, in particular by parents of local schools and nurseries. Evidence collected showed that over 30,000 bicycle journeys were made on the route during its short tenure; the less than two months spanning September 25th to November 24th.

What’s more, the cycling charity has referred the council to its own evidence that there was no negative impact on journey times, nor air quality as a result of the installation, which was primarily made up of wands segregating cyclists from the bulk of the traffic.

Shoreham resident, Karen Murphy (48), is a mother of two children, Silas (11) and Audrey (8) Tomlinson, who attend St Nicolas’ and St Mary’s Church of England Primary School. Karen said:

“We used to frequently ride along the cycle lane, often joining another safe route travelling from Shoreham to Steyning, but we haven’t since it was removed.

“I’m nervous about travelling along the Upper Shoreham Road without it. I’m not the only one. Parents are still taking their kids to school by bike but sometimes the children have to ride on the pavement as it is no longer safe without visible markings. I don’t understand why the council removed what had swiftly become a valuable community asset and hope they rethink their position.”

At the heart of Cycling UK’s challenge is the council’s failure to carry out an equality impact assessment before making what it describes as an “irrational decision” to remove the cycle lane, ignoring the statutory guidance on the management of its highways network.

Furthermore, Cycling UK says that the removal failed to consider the impact on young people. Under the Equality Act, age is a protected characteristic, which in this case the council should have considered before making their decision.

The case claims that an arbitrary decision was made to remove the lane by Councillor Roger Elkins, West Sussex CC’s Cabinet Member for Highways and Infrastructure. A Freedom of Information request revealed that the councillor did not personally visited the site before making the decision, which it is claimed came on the back of a small number of complaints, rather than data collected.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, said: “When the council introduced this cycle lane, people soon changed how they travelled locally. 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 a few 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.”

Cycling UK is funding its legal challenge via its Cyclists’ Defence Fund, and is concerned West Sussex CC’s actions could be mirrored by other local authorities under pressure from vocal minorities resistant to improvements in their communities.

“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 Mr 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.”

The route was used as a showcase in a Government publicity video highlighting the benefits of active travel, both in the pandemic and beyond.

Cycling UK has been particularly strong in its efforts lately to push back against anti-cycling sentiment, which for the most part appears to come from a small but vocal minority. Earlier this month it called on the Independent Press Standards Organisation to “show some teeth” against press utilising misleading long lens photography to slander cyclists taking exercise during the pandemic.

Photo – Shoreham by Cycle