A campaign success - but is TfL's own board a threat to the superhighways?


Boris Johnson and TfL have now published their response to the consultation and final plans for the construction of the new East-West and North-South cycle superhighways in London. We’re delighted to see that despite some vocal opposition, and to his immense credit, Boris Johnson has recognised the overwhelming support for these schemes and made clear his intention to deliver the East-West and North-South cycle superhighways broadly as originally proposed. Far from the inadequate protection of their blue paint predecessors the new Cycle Superhighways will provide Dutch style protected space for cycling along most of their lengths, representing a massive increase in safety. Yet we’re less than impressed to hear that the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association will be seeking a judicial review of the plans.

If the London Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) and others mount a legal challenge to the superhighways, it will continue the theme of a small but powerful minority threatening a scheme which otherwise has overwhelming support. Over 20,000 people responded to Transport for London’s consultation (over 5,000 via LCC alone), with the overwhelming majority – 84% - in full support. There has been cross-party political support from the GLA Transport Committee and from councillors across London. Businesses like Orange, Unilever and RBS have publicly supported the plans. Plus major concessions have been made to this minority along a stretch of the East-West scheme, with predicted peak time motor vehicle delays dropping from 16 minutes to 6 minutes.

So it seems somewhat unfair that despite this overwhelming support, the plans remain at risk because representatives of the two groups we have been told may be mounting a legal challenge – the LTDA (represented by Bob Oddy) and the Canary Wharf Group (Peter Anderson) – sit on the TfL Board, which must ratify their funding. Indeed, the Canary Wharf Group PLC  already has form– being behind a damaging and inaccurate behind-the-scenes briefing against the superhighway proposals.

Bob and Peter

Bob Oddy and Peter Anderson, Transport for London Board members who will be involved in the Cycle Superhighways decision

It seems entirely wrong that the LTDA and Canary Wharf Group should be allowed to be part of a decision that they are threatening with a legal challenge if the vote on the Board doesn’t go their way. In doing so they would be flouting the will of the democratically elected mayor and the overwhelming and unprecedented public support that has been given to these new cycle superhighways.

If the LTDA mounts its legal challenge, it will be on the process of consultation – not the outcome. They will try to introduce delays that will kick the project into the long grass. However, this has been one of the most thorough consultations in Transport for London’s history. Leaflets were sent to over 230,000 addresses; emails to over 2 million transport users. The consultation was extended beyond the initial period, and TfL have held meetings with over 100 stakeholders. 22 public events were held during the consultation. Information on the business case and environmental impact has been published, showing the benefits. If a judicial review is sought, it seems very unlikely that it will succeed. Ralph Smyth, prominent LCC activist, barrister and transport campaign manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, says if the LTDA’s claim is that the consultation is flawed they will “have a very steep climb”. Even if the challenge is merely a threat to delay and derail, it would be an expensive and potentially pointless use of the LTDA’s members’ money – Smyth says permission for judicial review applications can be refused in as little as three weeks after the claim is served.

We can only hope that those threatening legal action will recognise the political consequences, and that this move could make them very unpopular indeed. And we hope that the decision made at City Hall next week is one that reflects the wishes of Londoners, and brings us closer to a city that’s no longer blighted by car-dominated, polluted roads; a city that’s safe and inviting for people of all ages and abilities to cycle.