Campaigners lose High Court fight over axed ‘pop up’ High Street Kensington cycle lanes

Walking and cycling campaigners had sought a judicial review of the way Kensington and Chelsea council axed the cycle lanes in December 2020 after complaints from a number of residents and businesses.

But Mr Justice Lane, in a written judgement on Tuesday, dismissed the claim from the Better Streets for Kensington & Chelsea group and found in favour of the Tory-run council.

Better Streets said afterwards: “We are sorry to report that we have lost our judicial review case on the removal of the cycle lanes on High Street Kensington.

“We are not going to appeal the judgement, and so this marks the end of a legal process that began in December, 2020.

“No-one seriously thinks that removing a safety scheme after seven weeks, before it’s even been completed, makes sense.”

A council spokesperson said: “The judge has ruled in the council’s favour and dismissed the claim made by Better Streets.

“Our priority is to make Kensington and Chelsea a greener, safer and fairer place to live. We are happy to put legal challenges aside and look forward to working together on productive improvements to our streets.

“We commissioned independent research on travel patterns on our roads from the Centre for London and they published their reports in March and October 2022. We have very recently sought the views of our Citizen’s Panel and are carefully considering the findings.”

The lanes, which used plastic wands to create space for cyclists on either side of the high street, were introduced at a cost of £171,500 to encourage walking and cycling during the pandemic – but were axed just seven weeks later.

High Street Kensington is part of a key west-east corridor used by cyclists riding in and out of central London but has no protected cycle lanes.

After axing the lanes in the face of widespread protests, including from children and school teachers, the council ratified its decision in March 2021.

Lawyers for Better Streets, and its chair Justin Abbott, claimed in court last December that the council had gone “clearly and radically wrong” and broke the rules on public consultations.

But in a written judgement on Tuesday, Mr Justice Lane rejected the claims that the council was guilty of a failure to consult and of behaving irrationally.

Funding was originally envisaged to come from the Government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund, which was intended to assist local authorities in promoting walking and cycling, and avoiding overcrowding on public transport, during the initial stages of the pandemic.

In the event, the cycle lanes were funded by the council.

The “light segregation” on Kensington High Street was introduced without consultation in October 2020.

Soon after, more than 3,000 people signed an online petition calling for the removal of the lanes. “Objections were also made by local businesses and the emergency services,” the judgement said.

London mayor Sadiq Khan threatened to seize control of the road to enable the cycle lanes to be reinstated – but this never happened.

In a three year period to January 2019, 15 people had been killed or seriously injured on Kensington High Street whilst walking or cycling, the court was told.

There had been a total of 48 casualties overall involving cyclists. One third of all casualties that occur on Kensington High Street were said to be cyclists.

Transport for London argued that there was “an exceptionally strong case for safer cycling facilities on Kensington High Street”.

The council argued in court that it had not been under a duty to consult – but, even if it had been, its approach was “not so unfair as to amount to an abuse of power”.

Mr Justice Lane, in his judgement, said: “In the present case, there was manifestly no statutory duty to consult.”

He said the council was a “democratically elected public body” while the campaigners had their views annexed to council documents and received “a full opportunity to make representations concerning the removal of the cycle lanes”.

He added: “The claimants’ criticisms do not show that any consultation exercise went clearly and radically wrong.”

The Centre for London report last October found there was a “strong current and potential demand for East-West (and vice versa) cycle-based travel across the borough” and that there is not “a convenient alternative East-West cycling route on quiet roads”.

Mr Justice Lane added: “I find that the claimants have not demonstrated any irrationality on the part of the defendant.

“Overall… it is paradoxical for the claimants, on the one hand, to say that the defendant did not have sufficient information to reach a decision and, on the other, to contend that the defendant’s decision to conduct further research before determining what, if any, cycle lane provision there should be on Kensington High Street, was irrational.”

Following the judgement, a statement from Better Streets said: “Judicial review is a technical area of public law. Chances of victory are always low, and how it plays out is hard to know in advance.”

It said the Centre for London report was proof that “to no-one’s surprise, safe cycle infrastructure is needed on this road – something which RBKC still refuse to acknowledge”.

Better Streets added: “Rather than act accordingly, another process of discussion is apparently now taking place. There is no indication beyond that of whether any action ever will be taken.

“RBKC remains without a single metre of protected cycle lane in the whole borough. No-one thinks this is because of some strange topography. It’s just the continuation of a decades-long policy that looks increasingly reckless as time passes.”

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