Kensington and Chelsea council criticised for scrapping cycle lane

Peter Walker
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA</span>
Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA

A Conservative-run council has been accused of favouring the convenience of car drivers over the wellbeing of local people by scrapping a popular cycle lane after opposition from 0.2% of the borough’s population.

Kensington and Chelsea council, which last year vetoed its section of a cross-London bike route, has said it will remove the separated cycle lane along Kensington High Street, seven weeks after it was installed.

Cyclist numbers have more than doubled since the introduction of the lane, to about 3,000 daily along the busy A-road, a key route into central London for people coming from the west. Transport for London said it had no discernible effect on traffic congestion.

The decision comes amid a wider battle between Downing Street plans to promote cycling and walking schemes, in part to reduce congestion on roads and public transport during the coronavirus pandemic, and pushback from a series of councils, many Conservative run.

One of the leading voices arguing for the Kensington High Street lane to be scrapped has been Felicity Buchan, the local Conservative MP.

The council’s decision to remove the lane on Tuesday prompted anger. Will Norman, London’s commissioner for walking and cycling, said it was “putting the convenience of car drivers over the lives of local residents”.

The London Cycle Campaign said the removal of the lane would make Kensington and Chelsea “a borough that cannot be trusted to put its own residents’ interests first”.

In a letter announcing the plans, the council said it was “clear that large majorities of local businesses and residents do not feel the experiment has worked”.

Asked how this was known, a council spokeswoman said 322 residents had emailed to oppose the scheme, against 122 who backed it. The borough has a population of about 160,000.

The spokeswoman also pointed to an online petition against the bike lane, which has 3,000 signatures. However, this has been found to have been signed by people living in places as far away as Portsmouth, Suffolk, Nigeria and Florida.

The council also cites opposition from businesses, based on one local commerce group, which said 96 firms of 126 questioned stated that they opposed it.

Supporters of the bike lane say it is disingenuous to blame it for harming local businesses when the government forced many of these firms to remain closed for the past month. Other local groups have spoken out in favour, including Imperial College London, Royal Albert Hall and a local primary school, which organised a protest ride along the route on Tuesday.

Kensington and Chelsea has also claimed the cycle lane increased congestion. However, over the period of its operation the area had several sets of unconnected roadworks, including for a burst water main. The council spokeswoman did not explain how it was known the cycle was to blame for congestion, rather than the roadworks.

In 2019, the council vetoed a flagship scheme for safer walking and cycling in London before a formal consultation had been completed, again citing local opposition. It later emerged this comprised 450 emails opposing the scheme – less than 0.3% of the borough’s population.