A council’s decision to axe and not reinstate covid “pop-up” cycle lanes in Kensington High Street went “clearly and radically wrong” and broke the rules on public consultations, the High Court was told on Thursday.
An application from residents’ group Better Streets for Kensington & Chelsea and its chair Justin Abbott for a judicial review of Kensington and Chelsea council’s decision in March 2021 not to reinstate the lanes was being considered by Mr Justice Lane.
The Tory-run council axed the temporary lanes in December 2020, just seven weeks after they were first introduced, after its then Tory cabinet member for transport Johnny Thalassites met a “select group” of residents and businesses.
Jenny Wigley KC, for Better Streets for Kensington & Chelsea, said Mr Thalassites had listened to some “loud voices” including local business people, Kensington’s Tory MP Felicity Buchan and the area’s Tory London Assembly member Tony Devenish but had not held a wider consultation.
The cycle lanes had been introduced on either side of Kensington High Street, using plastic wands to separate cyclists from vehicles, at cost of £171,500 – money provided by Transport for London from the Government’s emergency active travel fund.
TfL regards Kensington High Street as being of “strategic importance” due to its level of use by thousands of cyclists a day heading on or out of central London, Ms Wigley said.
But its lack of safer cycling infrastructure has contributed to “very significant concerns” from TfL about road danger. In a three-year period to January 2019, 15 people were killed or seriously injured on Kensington High Street walking or cycling.
The court was told that there is currently no high-quality east-west cycle route across the borough, meaning there is a mile-long gap in safe cycling routes between Hammersmith and Fulham and the City of Westminster.
Documents submitted to the court claimed the council’s review in March 2021 of the decision to axe the lane relied on a “consultation of sorts” – but one to which residents were unable to give “intelligent consultation and intelligent response”.
The claimants argued: “This was not a consultation with some flaws. It went clearly and radically wrong.”
The claimants are also arguing that the council’s actions were “irrational”.
Ms Wigley said there was a “significant likelihood” that the cycle lanes would have been reinstated if the council had not “re-framed” the way it took its decision.
She said the council’s approach meant it did not decide in March whether the decision to axe the lanes in December had been taken correctly.
Rather, it decided in March whether to reintroduce a temporary cycle lane.
Ms Wigley told the court: “This matters because the two decision-making processes are materially different.
“If a reconsideration of the December decision had taken place as promised, various premises would have been in place.
“Firstly, there would have been an assumption that the scheme for the cycle lanes had already been approved and there was evidence to justify it.
“The starting point would be: ‘There is already a good reason for the cycle lanes to be there. Is there evidence to support their removal?’
“There would be a need to engage with whether the temporary cycle lanes and their trial had fulfilled their purpose.
“The question would be: ‘Has sufficient information been collected to evaluate whether to make the scheme permanent? Not: ‘Is there evidence to support installing a temporary cycle lane?’
“If this question had been asked there is at least a significant material prospect the outcome would have been different.”
Cllr Thalassites took no part in the subsequent decision in March not to reinstate the cycle lanes, the court was told.
Charles Streeten, for the council, said it opposed the application for the court to intervene.
It said the application for judicial review had been made “far too late and without good reason”.
He said the council had made the decision to axe the cycle lanes “at a time of great national flux”, with a third lockdown about to start.
In a written submission to the court, he said Better Streets for Kensington & Chelsea opposed the merits of the council’s decision but this was “not a proper basis for bringing a claim for judicial review”.
He revealed that the council official who drew up the options considered by the council’s leadership in March had left the council.
The hearing was adjourned until Friday January 13, 2023.