Council admits it acted unlawfully in removing popular cycle lane

27 Jan 2022

Public Law and Judicial Review

West Sussex County Council has admitted it acted unlawfully when it decided to remove a popular cycle lane in the seaside town of Shoreham in November 2020.

The council’s declaration is reflected in court order made in advance of the final hearing of Cycling UK‘s judicial review which was set to be heard in the High Court on 25 January. As part of the court order, West Sussex CC is instructed to contribute £25k to the cycling charity’s legal fees.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns said:

In Shoreham, Cycling UK has drawn a line in the sand, showing there are repercussions for councils which ignore government guidance. Hopefully West Sussex County Council’s acceptance they acted illegally will put a stop to short sighted decisions like this happening across other parts of the UK. This is a victory for people who want their children to travel to school in safety, for people who don’t have to breathe polluted air, and for everyone who would like healthier, safer streets where we live and work.

The cycle lane was installed at the end of September 2020 through government funding to help more people walk and cycle during the pandemic, and was removed weeks later contrary to government guidance.

During its short lifetime the lane was used for 30,000 cycle trips, serving five schools along its length. It also featured in a government publicity video highlighting the community benefits of the new cycle lanes introduced during lockdown in 2020.

Comment

The Consent Order is important for public law practitioners and public bodies for two reasons:

  • It shows that decision-makers not only have to have regard to statutory guidance but they also have to follow it or give reason why they are not doing so. The extent of this obligation was key to the Council accepting that the Statutory Guidance had not been taken into account.

  • It shines an interesting light on litigation strategy. Cycling UK’s judicial review claim was refused permission twice, both on the papers and at an oral renewal hearing before the High Court. Cycling UK chose to appeal to the Court of Appeal, which resulted a grant of permission on the main grounds of the claim and referral back to the High Court for a substantive hearing. Faced with this, and the Claimants’ skeleton argument for the hearing, the Council chose to consent to judgment and make a contribution to Cycling UK’s costs.

Estelle Dehon, who, with Dr Christina Lienen, acted for Cycling UK instructed by Leigh Day, said:

At its heart this case is about the value of active travel, both in terms of promoting human health by reducing air pollution and in addressing the climate crisis. The Statutory Guidance which the Council should have followed made this clear. Building on our client’s legal success, it is now time for a consistent approach to be taken across the UK, similar to that in Wales, where there is a strong obligation on all local planning authorities to promote active travel. Given how many deaths are caused by air pollution, and the need for the most urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this should be a top priority.”

Since removal of the cycle lane, West Sussex County Council has made a public commitment to increase space for cycling on the A270 Upper Shoreham Road. Cycling UK urges the council to move on to delivery, having proper regard to its Network Management Duty and relevant statutory guidance in finalising and implementing a permanent cycle way along that route.

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