A HIGH Court judge has ruled the controversial Keyhole Bridge will remain open to traffic, however said the council must reopen a public consultation.

Court of Appeal judge Mrs Justice Lang said while she “broadly” agreed with the council that there would be “no justification” to reclose the road, she judged there to be “unfairness and unlawfulness” in their decision.

The Council was also ordered to pay £20,000 in respect of the claimant’s costs.

Read the full judgement here

In July 2020, BCP Council introduced an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO) to close Keyhole Bridge on Whitecliff Road to traffic to make the area around Poole Park safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

The trial closure was initially put in place for “up to 18 months”, with a review planned after six months.

Bournemouth Echo: Keyhole Bridge in Whitecliff Road, Poole, while closedKeyhole Bridge in Whitecliff Road, Poole, while closed

Phrasing on a council document stated that the six-month period of consultation would end on February 21, 2021.

However, according to the Keyhole Bridge User Safety Group, this order was “unlawfully” curtailed on January 15 for “unjustified” reasons, before all residents could provide feedback. The matter was then taken to the Court of Appeal.

The claimants wanted the council decision quashed and the road to close to traffic for a further six months, while the council felt that they had gathered enough responses from residents to make a decision.

In her report, Mrs Lang said: “The defendant submits that an entire re-run goes far beyond what is required in all the circumstances of this case, and the claimant's proposal is an opportunistic response by supporters of the road closure.

“Broadly, I agree with the defendant's submissions. In my judgment, there is no justification for re-running the entire trial closure and consultation afresh. There was an effective trial closure for more than 6 months – from August 14, 2020, to March 1, 2021 – and it is inconceivable that local people will have forgotten how it operated in practice.

Bournemouth Echo: Keyhole Bridge while open to pedestriansKeyhole Bridge while open to pedestrians

“In any event, the vast majority have already cogently expressed their views, between August 14, 2020, and January 22, 2021.

“In my judgment, in order to remedy the unfairness and unlawfulness which has occurred, it is not necessary to quash the decision of March 1, revive the order and close the road. I consider that the Council ought to conduct a further non-statutory consultation to enable the public to give their views on the changes which were implemented by the order.

“The Council should then conduct a review, which takes into account all the responses which have been received. Those who have already responded ought not to send a further response, unless there is a genuinely new point to be made.

“In the light of my conclusions, the parties then reached an agreement for a further consultation and review, on the terms set out in the final order.”

A spokesperson for Keyhole Bridge Group said: “We are delighted with this decision. It is notoriously difficult to win a judicial review but the Council’s decision to renege on its promise to run a full consultation was so clearly unlawful we were confident we would succeed.

“The Council must have understood this. We’ve always been willing to negotiate a solution and this ruling makes it clear the Council was reckless with council tax funds in not accepting our offer and pressing on with the case.”

BCP Council’s portfolio holder for transport Cllr Mike Greene said: “We are pleased that the court has dismissed the main point of contention that the decision was ‘irrational’. Indeed, the judge made clear that the claimant's argument did ‘not come close’ to demonstrating that.

Bournemouth Echo: BCP Council Cllr Mike GreeneBCP Council Cllr Mike Greene

“The judge was not satisfied that the announcement was made 37 days short of the six-month period originally advertised. Our argument was that it was highly unlikely any evidence or argument would have come forward in that remaining time that would be substantially different from that which had already been made and considered.

“However, we are happy to respect its ruling that we should hold a non-statutory consultation for 40 days to rectify this in case genuinely new evidence can be presented which is significant enough to mean the decision could be changed.

“We are also pleased that the judge has accepted there is no need to close the road again during this consultation.

He added: “We want our communities to feel engaged and included in key decisions affecting their local area. We hope the decision to run a further consultation for 40 days will provide a satisfactory outcome for all.’’

The 40-day online consultation exercise will run between February 28 and April 8, 2022. Following the end of the consultation exercise a report on the findings will be brought to a future Cabinet meeting for a decision on which of the options to take forward.

The decision will be made at a public meeting.