A group of cyclists, caught painting bicycle lanes on London's roads, have been arrested for obstruction and causing criminal damage to the highway.

Armed with paint pots, stencils, fluorescent jackets and 'slow' signs, the activists covertly drew miles of bike paths throughout the capital before being charged. They have been summoned to appear at Battersea magistrates' court today and they face fines of up to pounds 2,000 each if found guilty.

The cyclists - who include Shane Collins, the Green Party's Euro-candidate in London South Inner - argue that their action conforms with government and local-authority policy, and is not illegal. They even intend to ask John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, to speak in their defence.

'The Government and every council in London agreed two or three years ago to paint cycle paths but they just haven't bothered to do anything about it,' said Mr Collins. 'We are showing how effective cycle lanes are and how cheaply they can be done.'

Working in groups of four or five and usually at night, the cycle campaigners use a map of proposed bicycle paths, issued by the Government in 1991, to plan their routes. With one of the group directing traffic - to fool motorists into thinking they are council employees - they use white paint which does not mark car tyres and stencils of legitimate bike-lane markings. They have hit north, west and south London and insist that all their work conforms to council requirements.

Lambeth council has erased the illicitly painted lanes, but campaigners say that they will be back on the streets within an hour of their court case.

'We're really doing the council's work for them. Biking is so unsafe around London, almost everyone doing this has been knocked down at one time or another,' said Martin Ireland, who recently had plastic surgery after being hit by a lorry while riding to work.

In 1990 The Department of Transport adopted as policy the London Cycling Campaign's proposal for a 1,000-mile cycle route through the capital. But only 125 miles have been drawn, largely in Wandsworth, Fulham and Hammersmith.

Hard-pressed local councils argue that without government help they will be unable to build the route, costing at least pounds 40m.

In July, representatives from London's 33 local authorities will present a co-ordinated bid to the Department of Transport for funds to build a London cycling network. However, the DoT hinted that it would make no extra money available.

'Although we are keen on cycle routes, the policy is encouragement,' said a spokesman.

'We don't go around changing policy in the middle of the year.'

In 1990 a group of pro-cycling campaigners in Fulham 'borrowed' council painting equipment overnight to draw a cycle lane. Returning the paint-sprayer by morning they then convinced a council employee to insert a false instruction to paint the track into the local authority's computer system.

Unlike many of the group's efforts, the cycle lane still remains there.

(Photograph omitted)