This week the Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) has written to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) on behalf of its client, Better Streets for Kensington and Chelsea (Better Streets). The letter is a further pre-action protocol letter, following an earlier letter of 23rd December, and is a response to RBKC’s letter to ELF on 8th January. The correspondence is available on Better Streets’ website.
ELF’s pre-action letter of 23rd December set out seven grounds of unlawfulness of RBKC’s decision to rip out the safe protected cycle lane on High Street Kensington. Prior to its removal, and during its short life of approximately seven weeks, it was the only safe protected cycle lane in the entirety of the borough’s 207km of road. At present, and despite Government policy set out in its “Gear Change” document and elsewhere, the popularity of the scheme during its short life, and its criticality as a strategic route in the development of London’s active transport network, there is now a dangerous gap occupied by RBKC between its neighbouring boroughs.
RBKC has resisted the introduction of any safe protected cycle lanes in the borough for many years, always finding one reason or another why it theoretically supports active travel but why the particular proposal was not appropriate.
The cycle lane on High Street Kensington was put in place in the first two weeks of October 2020 and removed in the first week of December 2020. Costs of its implementation are estimated at £320,000, and costs of removal at £30,000. Despite the limited data available showing the scheme’s success, and the trial so incomplete that a crucial phase of its construction had not even begun, the lanes were ripped out, wasting some £350,000 of public money in the process.
While Better Streets welcome RBKC’s apparent acknowledgement of the unlawfulness of their decision, they remain deeply concerned at RBKC’s approach to active travel. Justin Abbott of Better Streets said, “While we welcome RBKC’s apparent recognition of the unlawfulness of their decision, they fail to make the obvious and requested step of undoing that decision and reinstating the lane immediately, and say they need over two months to reconsider – two months during which this dangerous route will have no safe alternative, at a time the Government is telling us to avoid public transport and cycle if possible. Meanwhile, they claim to have decided to remove it under a special urgency procedure rushed in two hours before a Council meeting. How on earth could it be more urgent to take out safety infrastructure than to put it back in?”.
Emma Montlake of ELF commented, “This is an example of what happens when a local authority goes about decision making incorrectly, to the detriment of the wider public interest. With the trial interrupted, and with the limited available data at the time in support of keeping the protected cycle lane, it would be impossible for them now not to conclude that the scheme must be put back in place and the trial completed. We have set out very clearly the steps that need to be taken and the inevitability of a challenge to a decision not to reinstate the lanes.”