Is Westminster Council TfL's Nemesis?

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 11 months ago

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Is Westminster Council TfL's Nemesis?

To the unbridled joy of some, and the intense disappointment of others, Cycle Superhighway 11 suffered a major setback yesterday in the High Court. Sir Ross Cranston, presiding over a legal challenge to the route from Westminster City Council, ruled that TfL acted unlawfully in its plans for the route.

TfL planned for CS11 to run from Swiss Cottage to the West End. Superhighways evoke a lot of passionate emotions amongst road users, and this route was no different. TfL's consultation showed that the plan generally had wide support from Londoners, excluding those who live neighbouring the route.

This is a recurrent issue with Cycle Superhighways. Those who love them are usually not the people who live with them. Westminster Council claims that TfL had not done its due diligence with consultations, and that the traffic modelling for the route was poor. Local campaigners were concerned that traffic would be forced onto nearby suburban streets. The council claims that would make road safety worse; something that the route in fact aims to improve.

As the Mayor's Cycling and Walking Commissioner, Will Norman said:

There is an urgent need for more safe cycling and walking routes into central London, and once again Westminster Council is obstructing plans that will improve the local environment and road safety for all Londoners.

Photo: Roman Koester

All this hullabaloo does not mean that CS11 is dead, however. This court case mainly focused on procedure, as a TfL spokesperson makes clear:

We are disappointed with today's ruling, which focuses on procedure rather than the merits of the scheme. This junction in Swiss Cottage is one of London's most dangerous. The scheme that was the subject of this ruling would help to protect all road users and particularly those walking and cycling, whilst significantly improving the area for residents, visitors and businesses.

We will take the judge's findings into account and are also urgently exploring all the options available to us to reduce danger around the Swiss Cottage gyratory, which includes considering appealing the decision.

Challenging the plans on a point of procedure seems like a petty thing to do, and there are suspicions that Westminster Council's aims are to stop CS11 being built entirely. Councillor Tim Mitchell, Cabinet member for Environment and City Management said of the decision:

Westminster City Council supports improving cycling infrastructure, but as part of the planning process all traffic and air quality impacts must be properly assessed before a decision is made to construct.

It's clear from today's outcome, TfL have not completed the due diligence that our residents deserve and the current CS11 proposals need to be assessed in more detail. TfL must consider the effects of the entire route before an informed decision can be made.

That comment strikes a very different tone to TfL's. Westminster Council clearly feels that there is still some question on whether to construct — something TfL sees as a necessity.

TfL's statement also makes clear that it might appeal the court's decision. Setting it up for another showdown with Westminster Council. Not for the first time in recent months.

How the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street might have looked

Westminster Council recently scuppered another plan of the Mayor's, that time a flagship one, the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street.

Again Westminster Council argued that all the traffic displaced by pedestrianisation would negatively impact its local residents. Again the same issue is at the heart of the problem; TfL wanted to best serve as many people as possible, while Westminster Council focused on its residents, who are greatly outnumbered by the users of Oxford Street.

The council decisively won that round. Following it up by blocking CS11 on a point of procedure just a few months later, looks like rubbing salt into the wound. That got us thinking. Is Westminster Council TfL's new nemesis?

Westminster Council is always likely to be one of the busiest boroughs thanks to its location — both tourists and Londoners from other boroughs visit constantly. However, its population ranks in the lowest third among London boroughs. That population is the one that votes for the council, and therefore those residents are the people who the council primarily serves.

We asked Westminster City Council, TfL, and the Mayor's Office for a comment about the current state of the relationship between the parties, and received a generic comment from each about the CS11 court decision. Nobody wants to talk about the relationship. But it's fair to assume that things aren't going swimmingly.

Last Updated 14 September 2018