Decision time on Kensington High Street cycle lane

Cyclists make use of a segregated bike lane in London during Christmas time
The temporary Kensington High Street cycle lane, before its removal in December 2020
Volunteers in Kensington took the council to court after they removed and then refused to reinstate the cycle lane on Kensington High Street. Now they need help to get their case heard in court. Head of campaigns Duncan Dollimore explains what Cycling UK is doing to help through its Cyclists’ Defence Fund, and how you can contribute

Back in December 2020 and for much of 2021 one David and Goliath story was very much in the news, and the battleground was Kensington High Street.

Better Streets for Kensington and Chelsea (BetterStreets4KC) are a group of local volunteers who want safer and healthier streets in their borough, and they took on the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), who control the roads and have the power to make this happen.

I’ll not recount the full story of what happened to trigger this battle, because it’s set out in detail on BetterStreets4KC’s website. For those who don’t know the background, however, the short summary is that RBKC removed the protected cycle lane from the High Street in December 2020, before it was fully installed and after just seven weeks.

BetterStreets4KC then instructed lawyers to send a pre-action protocol letter threatening legal action, so RBKC agreed in January to review its decision to remove the lane. They reviewed that decision in March, reached exactly the same conclusion, and BetterStreets4KC issued judicial review proceedings in the High Court.

A long and winding journey

As Cycling UK knows, having brought a similar judicial review against West Sussex County Council (WCSS) for unlawfully removing the cycle lane on Upper Shoreham Road in Shoreham, this type of litigation is complex, a time sink, expensive and stressful, so it’s remarkable when volunteers take this on.

In the Shoreham case, Cycling UK lost two initial court hearings and had to take the case to the Court of Appeal before WSCC finally admitted it had acted unlawfully. The reason you’ve not heard much about the Kensington case for a while is that BetterStreets4KC’s route to a final hearing is also proving to be a long and winding journey.

After the court initially refused BetterStreets4KC permission to proceed with their judicial review, the volunteers appealed the decision and won in the High Court last October. In the Shoreham case, Cycling UK was similarly refused permission before this decision was overturned on appeal.

My colleague Roger Geffen wrote a detailed account of the October hearing, at which point I expected the case to be listed for trial a few months later.

Sadly, a group of committed volunteers trying to cope with complex litigation, with at that time largely pro-bono legal advice, made an admin error, overlooking payment of a court fee. The result was that the case was struck out, without any assessment of the merits, and that’s why all’s been quiet on the Kensington front for a while.

Battling on

Undeterred, BetterStreets4KC battled on, seeking further legal support and applying to the court for the case to be reinstated. That application is due to be decided tomorrow, 19 July, in the High Court.

There’s a statement attached to a tweet posted by BetterStreets4KC which explains in more detail what happened, and why they now need to raise further funds through crowdfunding to make sure this hugely important case is fully heard in court. The short story is that Cycling UK is making a donation of £2,500 through our own Cyclists’ Defence Fund, but BetterStreets4KC still need to raise further funds.

An update on the Judicial Review on High Street Kensington. We made an administrative mistake we are trying to rectify, with a court hearing on 19th July. Thank you to so many of you for your support so far; we're sorry for this mistake. More to follow soon on fundraising steps

— betterstreets4kc (@betterstreetskc) July 15, 2022

Why this case matters

BetterStreets4KC’s crowdfunding page has now gone live on the CrowdJustice website, and you can donate there – any amount helps. I’ve had to summarise a fairly long story in this blog, but it’s crucial to remember why BetterStreets4KC is challenging Goliath.

The group wants people to have choices about how they travel, and currently only the brave are prepared to cycle on Kensington High Street. It wants less congestion, healthier air, and to reduce deaths and life-changing injuries, encouraging community and more active healthier lives.

That’s why it is so determined to challenge RBKC’s decision, and that’s why Cycling UK through our Cyclists’ Defence Fund is proud to support the group with a £2,500 donation.

RBKC is not backing down in this case. It is opposing the reinstatement of a case struck out due to an administrative oversight. If you share BeterStreets4KC’s aspirations for our high streets, whether Kensington High Street specifically or more generally, please consider supporting the fundraiser.

A message to councils

Cycling UK took WSCC to court partly because we wanted to send a message to councils that there were consequences if they failed to take into account the relevant statutory guidance or made irrational decisions regarding the installation or removal of cycling infrastructure.

Irrationality is a key issue in the Kensington case (see Roger’s blog) given that the limited data RBKC did collect regarding the Kensington cycle lane indicated that the cycle lane had been beneficial, so the refusal to consider reinstatement ignored the available evidence. It’s that dinosaur approach to active travel infrastructure decisions we need to keep challenging.

But we don’t always have to take the lead, and the Cyclists’ Defence Fund exists to help fight significant cases which affect cycling or cyclists, or might enable more people to cycle, so we’re proud to be supporting BetterStreets4KC with this challenge, because we think this case matters.

If you think it matters too, please have a look at BetterStreets4KC’s crowdfunding ask on CrowdJustice.