5 ‘missing link’ Mendip cycle routes could soon be connected

Five ‘missing link’ cycle routes could soon be connected up to make it easier to reach Mendip’s key towns and villages without a car.

Mendip District Council identified 14 such routes in June 2020 which could be connected up to encourage people across the district to walk or cycle to work or school, thereby reducing congestion and pollution.

Work has progressed substantially on five of these routes, which could help to complete the ‘Somerset Circle’ route to enable uninterrupted car-free routes in the northern half of Somerset.

The council will now begin negotiating with landowners to secure access to these paths so they can formally be designated for safe travel.

An update on this project came before the council’s scrutiny board when it met virtually on Monday evening (February 15).

The council has been working with Greenways and Cycle Routes (GW&CR) since October 2020 to deliver the first five connections, which all relate to the aspirational ‘Somerset Circle’ proposals.

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When completed, the Somerset Circle would provide a 76-mile traffic-free circuit which would link the north Somerset coast (including Weston-super-Mare and Clevedon), Bristol, Bath, the Mendip Hills and Cheddar.

The circle is currently around two-thirds completed, with around 50 miles linked up, and most of the outstanding sections lie in the Mendip or Sedgemoor districts.

The five sections being prioritised by the council, which will help to complete the Somerset Circle, are:

  1. Shepton Mallet to Emborough
  2. Wells to Westbury-sub-Mendip
  3. Wells to Glastonbury
  4. Shepton Mallet to Wells
  5. Frome to Bath (via Radstock)

Councillor Liz Leyshon, portfolio holder for corporate services and projects, said in her written report: “These routes have now been mapped and all potential landowners have been identified.

“The remaining nine connections have been considered with the potentially traversed parish and town councils, and where a preliminary route has been identified, any suitable existing rights of way or alternative, accessible directions have been surveyed.”

The other nine connections which are still being explored are:

  1. Shepton Mallet to Wanstrow
  2. Glastonbury to Street
  3. Street to Sharpham
  4. Sharpham to Glastonbury
  5. ‘Connecting Frome’ (various routes in and around the town)
  6. Frome to Wanstrow
  7. Shepton Mallet to Evercreech
  8. Glastonbury to Shepton Mallet
  9. Street to Walton

Ms Leyshon added: “The next step in the project is to approach the relevant landowners to ascertain their support for the project and any terms they may have for land access.

“Due to the different size, type and uses of plots across the routes, a variety of methods will be required to reach a mutually agreeable term.”

The council is to commit £50,000 towards its initial assessments of the agreed routes, preparing valuations and business cases for each section.

Where possible, the council will aim to secure the cycle tracks via existing rights of way legislation, encouraging landowners to allow paths to be designated as cycleways or bridleways (working with Somerset County Council) and making localised improvements to encourage their use.

As a last resort, the district council can acquire the land via a compulsory purchase order, but this would prove expensive if applied extensively across all 100km of the 14 proposed connections.

Councillor Philip Ham – who chaired the scrutiny board until his resignation in November 2020 – asked: “Have we got a ballpark figure for the total overall cost to the council for this project? And where would the funding be coming from?

“What compensation would landowners be offered, and how would this be worked out? If the strip of land in question is near a house, it could devalue the house.”

Council officer Kelly Knight responded: “It is difficult to put a figure on it. Every path has so many variables.

“The more landowners we have, the higher the costs are. And if you’ve got an entirely new path, that is going to cost more potentially than if you upgrade an existing right of way.

“That’s why we’re bringing a business case per route back to the board as we identify them.”

Somerset Live Bath