A DEFINITIVE decision on whether the controversial Keyhole Bridge traffic order should return will be made next week.

Members of BCP Council’s cabinet will meet on Wednesday, December 14, to determine whether the section of Whitecliff Road, Poole, will remain open to motor traffic – following months of legal disputes.

As reported, Whitecliff Road was the subject of a BCP Council-backed Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO) to close the road to traffic to make the area around Poole Park safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

The ETRO was to be in place for 18 months, however BCP Council withdrew the measures more than one month early and reopened the road. This resulted in a legal challenge lobbied by the Keyhole Bridge User Safety Group who argued the order was curtailed before all residents could provide feedback.

Bournemouth Echo: Wooden plant pots installed at Keyhole Bridge near Poole Park during the ETROWooden plant pots installed at Keyhole Bridge near Poole Park during the ETRO

A High Court judge found BCP Council had unlawfully curtailed the initial six-month consultation early in November last year and ordered a further period of consultation from February 28 until April 8.

During the initial consultation period from August 2020 to January 2021, 346 written representations were submitted by residents and other bodies. Of these, 49 per cent wrote in support of the road closure.

Around 450 respondents, meanwhile, took part in a questionnaire – 60 per cent of whom agreed or strongly agreed that Whitecliff Road at Keyhole Bridge should be prioritised for cycling and walking.

One of BCP Council’s primary defences for curtailing the original consultation early was that they felt everyone who wanted to make representations about the ETRO had ample opportunity to do so.

Bournemouth Echo: Keyhole Bridge in PooleKeyhole Bridge in Poole

However, the subsequent court ordered consultation from February to April yielded 791 respondents to the questionnaire – 86 per cent of whom had not commented on the original consultation.

Of the 791 respondents, 65 per cent agreed Keyhole Bridge should be closed permanently with 35 per cent disagreeing.

Separate studies were also commissioned to determine the financial impacts of the road closing. BCP Council commissioned Dorset Council to produce an independent assessment where an economic disbenefit of £2.2m over a 20-year assessment period was predicted.

The Keyhole Bridge Group commissioned KMC Transport Planning to conduct its own report, where the scheme was predicted to instead procure financial benefits of £8.5m.

Bournemouth Echo: Keyhole Bridge in PooleKeyhole Bridge in Poole (Image: Newsquest)

Both studies were independently reviewed to investigate the disparity and it was concluded that differing assumptions around the projected increase in cyclist/pedestrian numbers, reduction in motor traffic and assumptions about vehicle occupancy were the cause.

At cabinet, council members will decide on one of the following options.

  • Option A – leave Whitecliff Road open to all traffic through Keyhole Bridge
  • Option B – re-close Whitecliff Road at Keyhole Bridge to motor vehicles for a further trial period of six months using a new ETRO
  • Option C – permanently close Whitecliff Road at Keyhole Bridge to motor vehicles