People cycling and walking to be prioritised in Poole Park legal win

BCP Council now needs to confirm its plan to prevent rat-running through Poole Park
Charity wins court case against Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, as council concedes decision to keep Keyhole Bridge open to motor traffic was unlawful
  • BCP Council concedes judicial review brought by Cycling UK, challenging decision to keep Keyhole Bridge permanently open to motor vehicles
  • BCP Council accepts decision was unlawful as it failed to adequately consider statutory guidance issued to highway authorities
  • Council agrees to pay Cycling UK legal costs
  • Council will now need to confirm its plan to prevent ‘rat-running’ through the park

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council conceding that its decision to keep Whitecliff Road permanently open to motor traffic was unlawful is a huge win for walking and cycling, according to Cycling UK, which led the legal battle.

The narrow single-lane road under Keyhole Bridge in Poole Park is regularly used as a through-road. It was closed to motor vehicles under an experimental traffic restriction order in 2020 to provide safer walking and cycling facilities during the pandemic.

To the dismay of many local residents, it was, however, reopened in March 2021.

This is the second judicial review the council has faced and either lost or been forced to concede over its decision to reopen Keyhole Bridge. Cycling UK brought the legal challenge on the grounds the council failed to consider statutory guidance issued to highway authorities.

This guidance required local authorities to, as the court order states, “take account of a presumption in favour of retaining any traffic schemes reallocating road space to people walking and cycling”.

Sarah Mitchell, chief executive of Cycling UK, said:

“This is a victory for the people of Poole, who will be able to breathe clean air and enjoy their neighbourhood with quieter, more peaceful streets. The reopening of Keyhole Bridge was a legacy decision the current administration inherited, so Cycling UK is pleased it’s adopted a more pragmatic approach to resolve the case.

“This isn’t the first time a local authority has failed to consider the relevant government guidance before removing schemes designed to get more people walking and cycling by reallocating road space. It’s crucial all councils realise they need to evaluate how active travel schemes have worked and consider the relevant guidance, and not rush to remove schemes because a minority of people object.”

The Keyhole Bridge case was fought with the support of Cycling UK’s Cyclists’ Defence Fund, which raises money for its work through crowdfunding. The fund is used for significant legal cases involving cycling, especially those that might set an important precedent.

Sarah Mitchell continued:

“I also want to thank all of Cycling UK’s members and supporters whose donations to the Cyclists’ Defence Fund makes it possible for our charity to fight cases like these in the courts. While the immediate benefits of this case will be felt locally, we know other councils will take note of this outcome and think twice before restricting people’s opportunities to cycle.”

The Cyclists’ Defence Fund relies entirely on donations. To support its work, you can donate today.

Notes to editors

1.    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. 
2.    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. 
3.    Timeline: 
a.    August 2020: closure of Keyhole Bridge was implemented. BCP Council announced a consultation period would run until 21 February 2021. 
b.    January 2021: consultation ends a month early. 
c.    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. 
d.    November 2021: second consultation period was ordered after BCP Council lost the first judicial review, brought by local campaigners the 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. 
e.    December 2022: BCP Council voted to keep Keyhole Bridge open in a meeting held Wednesday 14 December 2022, despite the second consultation showing public opinion strongly supported its permanent closure, and expert analysis commissioned by the Keyhole Bridge Group demonstrating the huge long-term positive financial benefits of closing Keyhole Bridge to motor traffic. 
f.    February 2023: Cycling UK sent BCP Council a letter before action, which required a response within 14 days. 
g.    March 2023: Cycling UK issued court proceedings against BCP Council after it refused to reconsider its decision to keep the bridge open. 
4.    The report by KMC Transport Planning showed the decision to reopen Keyhole Bridge was based on flawed analysis as it was based on assumptions from a short-term closure of another part of the park in 2016, and ignored the health benefits of cycling and walking in the economic assessment. Instead, KMC’s report demonstrated a positive financial impact of £8.5m (£425,000 per year) over a 20-year period from closing the bridge to motor traffic.  
5.    Transport Technical Report authored by KMC Transport Planning, commissioned by the Keyhole Bridge Group.

Press contact information

For more information, please contact the national Cycling UK press office. If you would like to speak to a member of the press office during working hours (0900 - 1700) please email Out of hours, call 07584 271 300