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Rat-run bridge will remain open to motor traffic, insists council – despite Cycling UK proclaiming “victory” for cyclists and walkers following legal challenge

The local authority has denied conceding that the decision to reopen the road to motorists was “unlawful”, claiming it reached an agreement with the cycling charity to “avoid further conflict and reduce costs”

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council has insisted that a narrow road underneath a railway bridge in Poole, commonly used as a rat-run by drivers, will remain open to motor vehicles – despite Cycling UK proclaiming a “victory” for cyclists and pedestrians earlier this week, following a legal challenge against the council’s controversial decision to keep the route open.

In March, Cycling UK launched a legal action against BCP council’s reopening of Keyhole Bridge in Poole Park, which was closed to drivers under an experimental traffic restriction order (ETRO) in 2020 to improve active travel access and provide a safe route for people on bikes or on foot during the Covid pandemic.

However, over the course of the following two years, the then-Conservative-led administration ignored two public consultations (one of which was mandated by the High Court following a judicial review brought by local campaigners), showing the vast majority of residents supported the extremely narrow road’s permanent closure, by choosing to reopen the underpass to motor traffic.

Cycling UK described the council’s decision as “unlawful”, arguing that it was based on flawed economic analysis and failed to take into account statutory guidance issued to highway authorities under the Network Management Act 2004, while also posing a danger to vulnerable road users.

And earlier this week, the charity announced that BCP Council had, in the wake of the charity’s legal challenge, accepted that it had acted unlawfully when reopening the bridge in March 2021 and agreed to pay Cycling UK’s legal costs.

> Victory for cyclists and walkers in legal challenge to council decision to reopen narrow bridge to motor traffic

According to a consent order viewed by the Daily Echo, BCP Council must pay Cycling UK £35,000 after the local authority said that it “does not intend to defend” the claims made against it by the charity.

However, the council – now run by the Liberal Democrats – has denied Cycling UK’s claims, insisting that they don’t agree that the decision was unlawful, that an out-of-court settlement was reached before the case made it to court simply to reduce costs and “avoid further conflict”, and that the bridge will remain open to motorists.

“Whilst we as an administration disagree with the position of the previous portfolio holder, at no time have we conceded that this decision was unlawful,” Andy Hadley, the council’s portfolio holder for climate response, environment, and energy, told the local paper.

“BCP Council and Cycling UK jointly settled this case by way of a consent order without the case ever reaching court, and we agreed to pay some legal expenses to Cycling UK.

“Our intention in coming to this agreement was to avoid further conflict and reduce costs to the council and our residents. We believe this is far less expensive than if we had chosen to pursue a defence of the legal challenge.

“We remain committed to promoting active and sustainable travel.”

Poole rat-run (Keyhole Bridge Group)

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

However, despite the council’s claims, Cycling UK described the conclusion of their legal action as 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,” chief executive Sarah Mitchell said this week.

“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.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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21 comments

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David9694 | 2 months ago
2 likes

From CUK's perspective they'll argue that they've sufficiently put BCP through the mill re: following guidance and procedure.  But there's better things to spend their money on. 

As I see it, this was turning into Jarndyce v Jarndyce and a compromise has been agreed to bring it to an end. 

The music has stopped with the bridge open to cars and possession is 9/10 of the law. Out on the ground, cyclists and pedestrians have lost what little they gained here. 

Drivers are the dragon, St George fell off his horse. 

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nniff | 2 months ago
6 likes

Can't help but think that a small pile of bricks at each end would help, just for pedestrians to carry through with them.....

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Secret_squirrel | 3 months ago
8 likes

This story lurches from weirdness to weirdness.  Firstly the over-celebratory PR post from CUK, strongly implying a court result, and now the ambiguous position from the council.

Nowhere in the Daily Echo article does it say what the council intends to do with the bridge.  It appears the journalist is making an assumption that it will remain open in the light of no clear plan of closure.

Can Road.cc ask for an unambiguous answer from the Council over whether they intend to re-implement the block?

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brooksby replied to Secret_squirrel | 3 months ago
8 likes
Secret_squirrel wrote:

Can Road.cc ask for an unambiguous answer from the Council over whether they intend to re-implement the block?

And their justification for keeping it open, if that's the case.

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ubercurmudgeon | 3 months ago
12 likes

As in most of Britain, cyclists are too evenly distributed throughout the council area to threaten any one councillor when the next round of local elections are held. And pedestrians aren't considered any kind of politicially-motivated group. Whereas all politicians know that a local newspaper or Facebook group could whip up enough motorists into a lather to lose them a couple of seats.

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Secret_squirrel replied to ubercurmudgeon | 3 months ago
4 likes

This isnt the case here though.  There is a vocal group of local cyclists and pedestrian groups that were the local reps that the CUK defense fund supported with the legal challenge.

Afaik you need a local group who has been impacted in order to bring these kind of actions, and I believe (from memory) they had already started crowdfunding the first action before CUK got involved.

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Fursty Ferret | 3 months ago
7 likes

This is why you don't vote Lib Dem in local elections.

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Car Delenda Est replied to Fursty Ferret | 3 months ago
5 likes

Tories wither, Labour dither, Greens deliver.

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Left_is_for_Losers replied to Car Delenda Est | 3 months ago
2 likes
Car Delenda Est wrote:

Tories wither, Labour dither, Greens deliver nothing.

Finished it off for you, missed a bit 

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chrisonabike replied to Left_is_for_Losers | 3 months ago
3 likes

Not bad - actually a reasonable point, almost.  However as you know they've never been in outright control of anything...  They've had minority control in Brighton for a bit and are a minority partner in the Scottish parliamentDon't seem to be doing anything in Wales.

They have actually made a significant difference in Scotland on transport (as part of the Bute House agreement with the SNP).   Although I'm keen to see Scotland doing much, much more now there's a half-sensible level of funding for active travel - much more than in the rest of the UK and certainly England.

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eburtthebike | 3 months ago
11 likes

However, over the course of the following two years, the then-Conservative-led administration ignored two public consultations (one of which was mandated by the High Court following a judicial review brought by local campaigners), showing the vast majority of residents supported the extremely narrow road’s permanent closure, by choosing to reopen the underpass to motor traffic.

Maybe it's time that the current Lib-Dem administration realised that the era of coalition government is over, and they don't have to roll onto their backs to have their tummy tickled and do what the tories tell them.

“Whilst we as an administration disagree with the position of the previous portfolio holder, at no time have we conceded that this decision was unlawful,”

But refusing to defend the decision is literally conceding that it was unlawful.  Or is this Lib-Dem English, or Newspeak as more commonly defined?

“We remain committed to promoting active and sustainable travel.”

See "Newspeak" above.

Lib-Dems, stop with the 2,000rpm spin, and grow a pair.

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Boopop | 3 months ago
11 likes

I think this calls for some tactical urbanism. Install some planters overnight, ideally using cargo bikes. Keep doing it until they stop removing them.

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mattw | 3 months ago
8 likes

So where are we on this?

Trynig to squirm off on a technicality to please local nimbys is a very Lib-Demmy sort of thing to do.

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cmedred | 3 months ago
9 likes

Help me out as a yank here because I'm confused. The Echo story, which is largely just regurgitated above, says there was a "consent order'' in this case, but that the case never went to court. In the U.S, that's impossible. You have to go to court to get a judge to issue the consent order. Is it different in the UK?

The Echo story is, admittedly, rather confusing. In the second paragraph it says the BCP  "authority has 'conceded' it was unlawful after “winning the court case”. But in the next paragraph it is written that the "BCP Council has said that is not true: an out-of-court settlement has been made between the pair, the council don't agree it was unlawful, and the case never made it to court."

Am I to take it that the BCP just had a chat with Cycling UK and said, "Here's £35,000. Now go away.'' And Cycling UK said, "OK. Thanks."

And if this is the case, given that the BCP, according to the story, "does not intend to defend this ground,'' what's to stop Cycling UK from donating the £35,000 to a third party to go to court and get a legitimate court order closing the road to motor vehicles?

The £35,000 would appear more than adequate to pay for such an action given that BCP has said it's not going to defend the opening of the road to traffic. 

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IanMSpencer replied to cmedred | 3 months ago
13 likes

Often misunderstood, Judicial Reviews (JR) are review of a decision by a public body where the courts consider statute and common law. As representatives of the public, councils are under certain obligations to act fairly.

However, all a JR can do is reset the position to before the decision was made and require the council to retake its decision.

In this case, the council will have to go through the process - it does not mean they cannot come to the same conclusion, they just need to be better at showing their working. So for example, they could say, we are giving significant weight to the guidance of the Network Management Act, but consider the needs of a few scrotes in motor cars who are too lazy to go round is more important so we are keeping it open. As long as they are a little more circumspect in their phrasing (because they cannot act unreasonably) they can keep it open. Private individuals cannot close the road through a court order, only the Highways Authority (in this case the council) can do that - acting on our behalf.

Historically, Councils used to simply be local representatives, but since the 80s, successive governments have centralised decision making in all but name by placing statutory duties and centrally determined guidance on councils. So whereas historically decisions were taken on the basis of local interest, councils now are balancing local interests and central guidance and this seems to baffle some council officers who forget their duty to the local population. Then because there is little scope to influence local policy, the quality of local councillors has generally declined - why would you bother when most decisions are taken by a small and select number of members on committees and the whole council may only meet once a year? Once local councils were breeding grounds for national politics, but as the recent government has shown, now we are getting MPs who have no experience of any governmental role and simply fail to understand how the UK system of government is intended to work.

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HarrogateSpa replied to IanMSpencer | 3 months ago
3 likes

That sounds right, but it is not explained in the article.

Another factor could be that Sunak's govt has recently withdrawn the updated Network Management Duty to support active travel, so even if the decision was unlawful when taken it may not be when re-taken.

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eburtthebike replied to HarrogateSpa | 3 months ago
6 likes
HarrogateSpa wrote:

Another factor could be that Sunak's govt has recently withdrawn the updated Network Management Duty to support active travel,.....

Shit, I hadn't heard that.  This government lurches from one self-inflicted catastrophe to another, all the while telling us how green they are and supportive of the ordinary people.

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chrisonabike replied to HarrogateSpa | 3 months ago
4 likes

Oh FFS...  You think people are over-egging their mocking parodies of the regressive measures being implemented - and then you find that was the news.

It's like this was the party that delighted in electing Boris Johnson and really, really wanted Liz Truss in charge...

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Surreyrider replied to IanMSpencer | 2 months ago
2 likes

This is correct. I have professional experience of a council losing a JR and having to go back and make the decision all over again (the same one as it happens!). 

Councillors not on a decision-making committee aren't  going to have any real say at a full council meeting either in a lot of cases as voting simply goes with party affiliations and one party often has a big enough majority.

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cmedred replied to IanMSpencer | 2 months ago
0 likes

Thanks Ian. Sounds like devolution toward a system destined to create civil disobedience. It would certainly encourage my rebellious Yankee soul to march down the middle of the road and confront any MV there any time I wanted to use the route. Or maybe even drive an old beater into the opening and have it miraculously stall there. 

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FionaJJ replied to IanMSpencer | 2 months ago
1 like

As ever, the reality is more complicated and nuanced than articles with headlines designed to get clicks, nor their comments secionts indicate. 

It was a LibDem led council that closed it to cars, then the Tories who  allowed cars to use it again. The current administration is LibDem led, but they don't have a majority. It seems to me there is a majority who could/should support closing it off to cars again. Reading the twitter of one local LD councillor, they are keen for the route to be closed again to cars. But having just dealt with a court challenge because of not following due process it seems reasonable they will wish to ensure they follow due process if they are to close it off again.

And with Sunak's recent proclamation that he's against closing off roads, there may be additional legal hurdles to closing it to traffic again. Hopefully it will happen, but even if it is the case the council are keen and they make it a top priority, it's unrealistic to expect it to happen overnight.

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