After Charlie Alliston, the UK needs to review its road safety legislation

A cyclist in west London. Image: Getty.

The UK is set to review the criminal laws and safety issues relating to cycling. This announcement, last September, came shortly after 20-year-old Londoner Charlie Alliston was found guilty on the little known charge of “wanton and furious driving”, having collided with 44-year-old pedestrian Amanda Briggs causing serious head injuries, which led to her death in 2016.

This was, for several reasons, an odd case. Historically, the offence was used to prosecute drivers of horse-drawn carriages. It stems from a Victorian act of parliament, which predates the invention of the penny farthing bicycle. Yet it does carry a sentence of up to two years in prison, and has been used in the modern era (notably in 2008 and 2009) to convict cyclists who have killed pedestrians as a result of riding on the pavement.

An odd case

If Alliston had been driving a motorised vehicle, he could have been charged for causing death by dangerous driving, which can attract a sentence of up to 14 years in prison. Although cyclists can face a charge of dangerous cycling under the Road Traffic Act 1986, this offence only carries a minimal sentence: a fine of up to £2,500.

Taking the view that these charges would be too lenient, prosecutors were left with few alternatives but to charge Alliston with manslaughter and the lesser charge of “wanton and furious driving”. Alliston was eventually acquitted of manslaughter, but found guilty on the lesser charge and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

That prosecutors had to rely on such an outdated legal provision shows that the law is in need of modernisation, so the UK government is right to update it. Yet, of the 400 or so pedestrians killed on Britain’s roads every year, only about two are the result of collisions with bicycles. So creating new crimes to punish cyclists may seem an odd place to start improving pedestrian safety.


Who’s liable?

In fact, there is a strong argument for a wider review, which overhauls the way that the law balances the rights of all road users. Research shows that UK law is out of step many other more cycle-friendly European nations. In the UK, only about 1 per cent of journeys are made by bicycle, in comparison with 27 per cent in The Netherlands, 19 per cent in Sweden 10 ten per cent in Germany.

This has been achieved through investment in cycle infrastructure, education and the provision of pro cycling road laws which has had the effect of normalising cycling as a mode of transport.

Under UK civil law, the burden of proof is on an injured cyclist to show that a defendant driver is liable for his or her injuries. While a similar principle is at work in Malta, Romania, Cyprus and Ireland, the majority of European jurisdictions have some version of a “presumed liability” principle.

This is where the driver of the more powerful vehicle is presumed to be at fault, unless they can prove otherwise. For example, Article 185 of the Dutch Wegenverkeerswet (Road Law), introduced in 1994, presumes the liability of a motorist in a collision with pedestrians or cyclists.

Campaign groups such as RoadShare argue that bringing UK civil law in line with most European jurisdictions would improve the safety of both pedestrians and cyclists. But this move has so far been resisted by successive UK governments. They have argued that the European model undermines an important legal principle in English law; that the defendant is presumed not to be at fault until proven otherwise – or innocent until proven guilty in a criminal context.

Yet concerns have been raised over whether UK law provides enough protection for cyclists who, along with motorcyclists, are the group most likely to be injured on the road. A Freedom of Information request by the BBC demonstrated that only around 40 per cent of car drivers who killed a cyclist received a prison sentence.

The evidence suggests that making roads safer for vulnerable users does come at a cost; the Dutch spend around £20 per head on cycle related projects per year, whereas the UK spends only £7 per head. But the health and economic benefits seem to justify this spending.

The ConversationSo, although a review of UK cycling law is a welcome opportunity to modernise the laws around cycling, it needs to do much more than create further criminal offences for cyclists.

Hugh McFaul is a lecturer in law at The Open University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Communities can take control of the regeneration agenda. Hastings Pier proves it

The remains of Hastings Pier in 2010. Image: Getty.

I was blown away when I learned that Hastings Pier – once an abandoned and derelict Victorian relic – had won this year’s Stirling Prize. A community-led development has been officially declared the UK’s best new building. This victory demonstrates that excellent architecture and meaningful regeneration can be achieved through projects that are led by local citizens, and rooted in their communities.

I came to know about Hastings Pier through my involvement in the campaign to save London Road Fire Station in Manchester. These two very different structures have a few important things in common.

Both buildings are held in deep affection by their local communities; both recognised as having important heritage value by official bodies such as Historic England – and both were left to decay.

London Road Fire Station: inspiring. Image: Andrew Turner/Flickr/creative commons.

Sadly, it is not unusual for significant buildings to be left to ruin for decades, when owners can’t or won’t act to sell or save them. Situations like these can be described as “difficult” or even “delinquent” ownership.

In such cases, the ownership of the site becomes a long-term stumbling block preventing regeneration – often with a knock-on effect to the wider area. Even where there is the investment and the political will to bring a building back into use, a project can be stalled permanently by a landowner who refuses to cooperate.

Local consultant Jericho Road Solutions, which was involved with the campaign to save Hastings Pier, established the Community Assets in Difficult Ownership (CADO) programme to work with ten such projects, including Hastings Pier and the London Road Fire Station. Between them, these ten buildings have been empty for a total of 224 years, representing a loss to the economy of more than £1bn.

Local community groups associated with each project received grants, advice and mutual support to help them progress.

People power

Hastings Pier was eventually freed from its private owner, Ravenclaw, through the use of a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO). CPOs are legal powers available to local authorities, which can force land owners to sell land or buildings under certain circumstances.

A balance has to be struck between a person’s right to own property and the wider public interest. One example of when a CPO might be used would be to acquire land for major infrastructure projects, such as HS2. For this reason, CPOs can be viewed as a threat by local communities looking to protect their homes and land. But CPOs can also be used to buy a site needed to support urban regeneration, or to save a historic listed building which is in urgent need of repair. This latter mechanism was the one used to save Hastings Pier.

In desperate need of some TLC. Image: jtweed/Flickr/creative commons.

In Hastings, the pressure for the CPO actually came from the local community. Councils are often risk averse and prefer to avoid confrontational action such as CPOs – which can result in significant legal costs if things don’t go according to plan.

By 2011, the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust (HPWRT) had been established, and was raising funds with the long term ambition of taking over the pier to run it as a community asset. But the project remained in limbo due to its “difficult owners”.

With expert advice on both sides and a series of productive meetings, the HPWRT and the local council came to an agreement. The necessary building repairs were identified and Ravenclaw were given an opportunity to carry them out. When this didn’t happen, the council was in a position to acquire the pier using a CPO.

The pier was then immediately transferred to the HPWRT, in what is known as a “back-to-back” agreement. The success of this strategy is a credit to the willingness of both parties to work hard at developing a constructive relationship and to try a new approach.


Inspiring change

The CADO programme has recommended new laws to support the regeneration of buildings that are languishing under a “difficult owner”.

But until those changes can be made, I hope that local authorities and government can take confidence from the success in Hastings and view community groups as partners, working carefully to use enforcement powers that are already available to them. These strategies can secure the highest standards in architecture and – unlike much private investment in development and regeneration – the buildings belong to the community.

The ConversationThere are also lessons here for community activists. Those working to influence their local area often find themselves reacting to proposals by developers. Precious time and resources are consumed with this essential scrutiny work to fight inappropriate developments. But the story of Hastings Pier should inspire citizens everywhere, reminding them to sometimes take a proactive approach to pursuing the kind of built environment they yearn for.

Emma Curtin, Architect and lecturer, University of Liverpool.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.