West Sussex County Council has admitted that it acted illegally in ripping out an emergency bike lane that was showcased in a Department for Transport (DfT) video highlighting examples of how local authorities were rolling out temporary active travel infrastructure in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The council had been awarded £781,000 in June 2020 under the government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund (EATF) to put seven proposed schemes in place, including the protected cycle lane on Upper Shoreham Road in Shoreham by Sea.
It began work on installing the facility in September of that year, and the cycle lane proved hugely popular, including with parents of children attending the five schools along the route.
But less than two months later the Tory-run council’s cabinet member for highways, Councillor Roger Elkins, said it would be removed, even though the cycle lane had not yet been completed.
The decision was called in by the council’s environment and scrutiny committee, but Councillor Elkins – who it transpired had never even visited the site to see the infrastructure first-hand – stood by it, and work to remove the cycle lane began in January last year.
The council’s own monitoring subsequently found that there had been a dramatic increase in speeding on the road after the wands marking the protected cycle lane were removed last year.
Cycling UK sought a judicial review of the decision in February 2021, with its application initially refused, though permission was granted following appeal, with the case due to be heard this week.
Today, the national cycling charity has announced that it has reached an out-of-court settlement with West Sussex County Council, which admitted that it had acted illegally, and is paying £25,000 towards Cycling UK’s costs in the action, which had been brought via the Cyclists’ Defence Fund.
Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at Cycling UK, said the council’s admission that it had acted illegally should send a message to other local authorities across the country on not scrapping infrastructure before they have had a chance to evaluate its effectiveness.
“In Shoreham, Cycling UK has drawn a line in the sand, showing there are repercussions for councils which ignore government guidance,” he said.
“Hopefully West Sussex County Council’s acceptance they acted illegally will put a stop to short sighted decisions like this happening across other parts of the UK.
“This is a victory for people who want their children to travel to school in safety, for people who don’t have to breathe polluted air, and for everyone who would like healthier, safer streets where we live and work.”
He expressed hope that the new governmental body Active Travel England, launched last Saturday with Chris Boardman named as its interim commissioner, would in future situations take action against local authorities rather than leaving interventions to campaign groups.
“Challenging councils’ which act illegally by ignoring government guidance shouldn’t be the work of charities like Cycling UK,” he said.
“We hope Active Travel England will make sure councils not only promote cycling, but ensure they act lawfully and don’t waste public funds.”
He added: “Cycling UK is truly grateful for all the support we’ve received from the public who have helped to fund our legal battle in Shoreham. We hope they can continue to support us and our ongoing work to make the UK a better place for everyone.”
The charity was represented by solicitor Rowan Smith of law firm Leigh Day, who said: “This is a massive legal, as well as campaigning, victory that will benefit cyclists in West Sussex and across the country.
“Cycling UK has achieved a big win in upholding statutory guidance to embed more climate-friendly travel, which it hopes will contribute to a greener post-pandemic recovery.
“Such great news comes in the wake of the Government setting up Active Travel England, a new body with powers to rank local authorities on the quality of cycling provision in their areas,” he added.
The council has since said that it plans to install high-quality permanent infrastructure on the same route – a promise on which Cycling UK is urging it to follow through.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.