Like this site? Help us to make it better.

Cycling UK takes council to court over “unlawful” decision to keep rat-run open

This is the second time Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council is facing legal action over its decision to keep the incredibly narrow underpass open to motor vehicles.

Cycling UK deems it “unlawful”, residents find it “ridiculous”, but the BCP Council doesn’t see anything wrong with opening Keyhole Bridge — a 2.7 meters wide rat-run to vehicles.

After threatening BCP Council with legal action last month, the charity announced this week that it has followed through on its warning by taking the council to court.

The charity says the council decision was unlawful, as it failed to consider statutory guidance issued to highway authorities, and demands that the council retake the decision on a “lawful basis”.

‌Keyhole Bridge, located in Poole Park is a section of the Whitecliff Road and runs under the railway line. As the name suggests, it is incredibly narrow and doesn’t have enough space for a vehicle to share with even a pedestrian, let alone a cyclist, or someone with a pram or in a wheelchair.

> Campaigners seek funding for legal challenge to removal of Poole active travel scheme

Local resident Paul Bradley, who regularly cycles through Keyhole Bridge with his young son on the back of his bike, said, “With Keyhole Bridge closed, our community and our streets felt like a safer place, and children were able to cycle or walk to school.”

“The decision to keep it open was ridiculous when people living in the area were so overwhelmingly against it, and all the evidence supported public opinion. I’m glad it’s now being challenged, it’s just a shame it has to go this far to give people what they want and need,” he added.

This underpass has been a site of battle between residents looking to bike and walk safely and the Council since August 2020, when the first temporary closure was implemented during the pandemic under an experimental traffic restriction order (ETRO) to improve active travel.

Poole rat-run (Keyhole Bridge Group)

Poole rat-run (Keyhole Bridge Group), by Dan Alexander

In March 2021, the underpass was reopened by the council, despite consultation results showing 60 per cent of those who responded being in favour of prioritising the road for active travel. Local campaigners from Keyhole Bridge Group filed for a judicial review against the council. In November, the court ruled that there were errors in the process and ordering the council to carry out another round of consultation.

> Judge orders council that scrapped safe cycling and walking route to reopen consultation

The second round drew staggering responses from people who wanted it closed, with 71 per cent of those sending through written representations in favour of closing Keyhole Bridge permanently, as opposed to 29 per cent who wanted it to remain open to motor traffic. In another questionnaire, 65 per cent were again in support of shutting it to vehicles.

However, the Council ignored these responses in December last year, when it took the decision to open it again, leaving residents who had been using it for cycling and walking disappointed.

Now, Cycling UK argues that the council has failed to have appropriate regard for statutory guidance issued to highway authorities, like BCP, under the Network Management Act 2004.

Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at Cycling UK, said: “Cycling UK gave BCP Council the chance to avoid an expensive court case, but it has failed to answer the questions we and local residents have raised, and hasn’t been able to explain or show how it took account of the statutory guidance.”

“The council has ignored the guidance all councils are required to follow, despite having already lost one judicial review on Keyhole Bridge, costing it a great deal of time, money and credibility.”

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.

However, Cycling UK has pointed out that these assumptions were based from the short-term closure of a different part of Poole Park, and dated back to 2016. A new report by independent experts KMC Transport Planning in April found that the council’s decision was based on flawed analysis and ignored the health and economic benefits of cycling and walking.

In fact, the revised economic analysis by KMC showed a positive financial impact of £8.5m (£425,000 per year) over a 20-year period from closing the bridge to motor traffic.

Cycling UK is moving forward with the case aided by the law firm Leigh Day Solicitors. Rowan Smith from the firm said, “Statutory guidance says that schemes such as the closure of Keyhole Bridge to motor vehicles should be retained unless there is substantial evidence to the contrary. However the council decision documents show that BCP Council has misunderstood this point.”

“Cycling UK will argue that the statutory guidance was unlawfully interpreted when councillors made their decision. We are confident that the court will agree and allow Cycling UK’s claim for judicial review.”

Adwitiya joined in 2023 after finishing his masters in Journalism from Cardiff University, with a dissertation focusing on active travel. He's currently living in Cardiff and for the most part moans about the abruptly ending cycle lanes, if he's not cursing the headwind. Adwitiya also covers local and national politics for Voice Wales, and sometimes dabbles in topics related to science, tech and the environment. Cycling became a part of his life just a couple of years ago, and now he can't think of a single reason why anyone would drive if they could cycle. He usually uses his bike for commuting, but he also loves excursions on the Taff trail, however never underestimate his ability to find an excuse to watch something on GCN instead.

Latest Comments