New cycling and walking plan aims to reduce reliance on cars - but fears that rural areas will miss out

A dozen towns will benefit from improved infrastructure in a bid to get more people cycling and walking.
A dozen towns will benefit from improved infrastructure in a bid to get more people cycling and walking.
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Concerns have been raised about a major council plan to improve cycling and walking routes in County Durham over fears rural areas could be neglected.

Over the next decade, Durham County Council’s Strategic Cycling and Walking Delivery Plan aims to revamp roads and routes and reduce reliance on car travel.

The plans, currently under consultation, will see 12 towns benefit from improved infrastructure – including three priority areas - Durham, Chester-le-Street and Newton Aycliffe.

On September 3, a special meeting of the Environment and Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee was called to allow councillors to give feedback on the plans.

Victoria Lloyd-Gent, sustainable travel officer for regeneration and local services, told councillors the plan will contribute to Government targets which include doubling UK cycling levels by 2025.

She added an ongoing public consultation has had 33 responses so far, with comments ranging from pedestrian safety, potholes and equestrian routes to requests for secure cycle parking and route maps.

Similar concerns were also raised by councillors, including Eunice Huntington, who said keeping new routes tidy would be an issue as some cyclists do leave litter on routes.

Coun Stuart Dunn also called for the scheme to be expanded to villages, noting cyclists often use roads in the route between Durham and Coxhoe due to the existing quality of cycle paths.

However, the meeting heard that expanding the plan beyond the 12 core towns was limited by council resources, with “priority areas” chosen on the basis that people commute or seek employment there.

Coun Alan Gardner questioned the choice of ‘priority towns’ and suggested that the plan could focus on routes serving major housing estates and local schools.

Coun Andrea Patterson also asked officers whether equestrian routes and bridleways would be affected by the strategy and how the council would balance route usage.

Ms Lloyd-Gent added it was the role of the council to prevent any groups from being disadvantaged from using the cycling/walking routes under the plan and that each group will benefit.

Between 2012 and 2015/16, Durham County Council invested around £2.7million on infrastructure schemes benefiting cyclists in the county – including hundreds of new cycle stands under the ParkThatBike scheme.

However, cycling in Durham remains below the national average of cycling once a week (6.3%), at only 4.2% and behind the North East at 4.5%, a council report reveals.

Looking forward, the council will seek funding from the North East Combined Authority for its first five-year action plan for the scheme alongside using existing budgets and seeking grants from the Department for Transport (DfT).

While Durham missed out on funding from the DfT for the scheme, the Government is still providing support to the project in the form of workshops and advice.

A series of Local Cycling and Infrastructure Plans will also be created for the selected 12 towns, which also aims to boost future funding opportunities.

A consultation on the plans ends on Friday, September 7, and following scrutiny and a re-draft, it’s set for formal approval by the county council’s cabinet in November.

For more information, visit: www.durham.gov.uk/consultation

The 12 main towns included in the plan.

* Barnard Castle

* Bishop Auckland

* Chester-le-Street

* Consett

* Crook

* Durham

* Newton Aycliffe

* Peterlee

* Seaham

* Shildon

* Spennymoor

* Stanley

Chris Binding, Local Democracy Reporting Service