Cycling UK has applied for a judicial review of what it describes as an “irrational and unlawful” decision by West Sussex County Council to remove a pop-up cycle lane in Shoreham-by-sea.
The infrastructure on Upper Shoreham Road was put in place last September with the help of government emergency active travel fund cash, and subsequently featured in a video from the Department for Transport.
But the Conservative-controlled council removed it last month, with its cabinet member for highways and infrastructure, Roger Elkins, rejecting a 6:2 vote of its scrutiny committee to reconsider the decision.
A Freedom of Information Request subsequently revealed that the councillor had never visited the pop-up cycle lane to see it for himself, and in a bizarre twist, even as work was underway last month on removing the pop-up lane, he revealed plans to eventually install a permanent one at the same location.
According to Leigh Day solicitors, which is acting for Cycling UK, the application for judicial review, which was made yesterday, has been brought on the grounds that the council:
Failed to take into account the statutory guidance under section 18 of the Traffic Management Act 2004
Failed to comply with the statutory guidance and/or misdirection concerning the statutory guidance
Acted irrationally, given the Council’s own information did not support the reasons given for removal of the Cycle Lane and/or
Breached its public sector equality duty, in particular failing to carry out an equality impact assessment and failed to consider the impact on young people.
Rowan Smith, the solicitor acting on the case for the firm, said: “Our client feels it has no choice but to bring this legal action because this issue goes to the heart of the use of the government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund and its policy decision to promote cycling for all the wider health and social benefits it brings.
“West Sussex council’s decision sets an extremely worrying precedent and one the courts should examine closely.”
In November, it emerged that the infrastructure had trebled levels of cycling on Upper Shoreham Road without affecting motor traffic, proving popular with local residents, commuters, and parents and children using it to get to and from nearby schools and nurseries.
Local resident Karen Murphy, whose two children attend St Nicolas’ and St Mary’s Church of England Primary School, said: “We used to frequently ride along 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.”
A cycle lane in Shoreham, West Sussex, popular with families and commuters, has been removed. We say the council's decision was "irrational and unlawful" and we're taking them to court.
Find out more and how to support our legal challenge at:
— Cycling UK (@WeAreCyclingUK) February 25, 2021
Duncan Dollimore Cycling UK’s head of campaigns commented: “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 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.”
The legal challenge is being funded by the charity’s Cyclists’ Defence Fund, and has been brought partly because of Cycling UK’s concerns over councils elsewhere also potentially removing emergency infrastructure in response to pressure by small but vocal opposition.
“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,” Dollimore added.
“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.”
Clive Andrews of local cycling campaign group 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.”
He added: “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.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.