Cycling UK threatens council with legal action over “unlawful” decision to keep rat-run open
- Cycling UK letter before action to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council (BCP) challenges council decision to keep Keyhole Bridge open to motor vehicles
- The charity says council decision unlawful, as failed to consider statutory guidance issued to highway authorities, and demands council retake decision on a “lawful basis”
- Locals welcome action to overturn unpopular council decision to keep Keyhole Bridge as rat-run
Cycling UK is threatening legal action against Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council, should it not reconsider its controversial decision to keep Keyhole Bridge underpass in Poole open to motorised traffic.
The narrow single-lane road under Keyhole Bridge in Poole Park is a notorious rat-run and was closed to motor vehicles under an experimental traffic restriction order (ETRO) in 2020 to provide safer walking and cycling facilities during the pandemic. Local residents benefited greatly from quieter streets and were dismayed when it was re-opened to motor traffic.
Local resident Paul Bradley, who regularly cycles through Keyhole Bridge with his young son on the back of his bike, said:
“Children were able to cycle and travel safely while KHB was closed. I felt safer too and without rat-running traffic the streets I call home became a better place to live with a growing sense of community.
“I can’t understand when all the evidence points to the benefits and popular opinion is in favour [of closing KHB to motor traffic] why the council is stubbornly refusing to budge, ignoring the evidence, public opinion and government guidance.”
The charity, in its letter before action, says the council’s decision was unlawful. Cycling UK argues the council failed to take into account statutory guidance issued to highway authorities, like BCP, under the Network Management Act 2004.
As it stands this decision has no rational evidence base, which is why Cycling UK is asking the council to reconsider, on a lawful basis, their decision to keep Whitecliff Road open to motor traffic
Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at Cycling UK
This latest legal challenge follows the decision by BCP Council on 14 December 2022 to keep the rat-run open, despite a second public consultation showing the majority of local residents supported the permanent closure of the underpass and an expert report showing the huge, long-term positive financial impacts from closing the Keyhole Bridge to motor traffic.
Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at Cycling UK, said:
“It shouldn’t be down to local groups or charities with limited resources to police council decision-making to ensure due process is followed, mounting legal challenges that rely on donations when councils act unlawfully.
“However, this is where we find ourselves with authorities like BCP Council persistently ignoring not just public opinion and expert analysis but also statutory guidance. As it stands this decision has no rational evidence base, which is why Cycling UK is asking the council to reconsider, on a lawful basis, their decision to keep Whitecliff Road open to motor traffic.”
BCP Council’s decision to reopen the bridge in March 2021 was based on its assessment that the closure would create delays of around three minutes at peak times, resulting in an economic cost of £220,000 per year.
That assessment, however, is based on assumptions from a short-term closure of another part of the park in 2016. A report commissioned by the Keyhole Bridge Group and authored by independent experts KMC Transport Planning in April concluded that the decision to reopen was based on flawed analysis which ignored the health benefits of cycling and walking in its own economic assessment.
The revised economic analysis by KMC demonstrated a positive financial impact of £8.5m over a 20-year period from closing the bridge to motor traffic.
Cycling UK’s Cyclists’ Defence Fund supports significant legal cases involving cyclists and cycling, especially those which might set an important precedent.
The Cyclists’ Defence Fund relies entirely on donations, so if you would like to support its work, please consider donating today.
Notes to editors
- Cycling UK, the UK’s cycling charity, imagines a world where the streets are free of congestion and the air is clean to breathe, where parents encourage their children to cycle to school and everyone shares the exhilaration of being in the saddle. For more than 140 years, we’ve been making our streets safer, opening up new traffic free routes and inspiring more people to cycle more often. www.cyclinguk.org
- Cycling UK’s Cyclists’ Defence Fund supports significant legal cases involving cyclists and cycling, especially those which might set an important precedent. The charity welcomes local groups to get in touch regarding cases in their area that warrant legal backing and where decisions may end up having national significance. More info: https://www.cyclinguk.org/campaign/cyclists-defence-fund
- The report by KMC Transport Planning showed the decision to reopen Keyhole Bridge was based on flawed analysis: https://www.cyclinguk.org/press-release/council-ignored-own-policies-reopening-keyhole-bridge-traffic
- Transport Technical Report authored by KMC Transport Planning, commissioned by the Keyhole Bridge Group: https://democracy.bcpcouncil.gov.uk/documents/s38103/Appendix%206%20Economic%20Assessment%20by%20KMC%20on%20Behalf%20of%20Keyhole%20Bridge%20Group.pdf
- August 2020: closure of Keyhole Bridge was implemented. BCP Council announced a consultation period would run until 21 February 2021.
- January 2021: consultation ends a month early.
- March 2021: underpass reopened to traffic, despite original consultation showing 60% of those responding in favour of prioritising Whitecliff Road at Keyhole Bridge for cycling and walking and keeping it closed to motor traffic.
- November 2021: second consultation period was ordered after BCP Council lost a judicial review, brought by Keyhole Bridge Group and supported by Cycling UK’s Cyclists’ Defence Fund, on the grounds that there were errors in the consultation process, and it was a breach of procedural legitimate expectation. The second consultation, ordered to remedy the unfairness of the first, showed 71% of those sending through written representations in favour of closing Keyhole Bridge permanently, as opposed to 29% who wanted it to remain open to motor traffic. In addition, 65% of those responding to a separate questionnaire were in favour of closing it.
- December 2022: BCP Council voted to keep Keyhole Bridge open in a meeting held Wednesday 14 December 2022.
- February 2023: Cycling UK awaits a full response to the letter before action, which the council must provide within 14 days.