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Voles one, Velos nil - Oxford towpath plans thwarted

£200,000 scheme to improve path on Oxford Canal sunk due to wildlife habitat

The presence of water voles by a towpath on the Oxford Canal has dealt an apparently terminal blow to a £200,000 plan to improve the surface of a towpath on the Oxford Canal.

Sustrans had announced plans to upgrade the surface of the towpath in North Oxofrd earlier this year, but now says that the discovery of rare water voles in the verge alongside the canal will make it impossible for the shared use path to adhere to the minimum width of 2 metres, falling 20cm short.

Many sections of the towpath are in a state of disrepair, and a wall on the opposite bank means it is impossible for the path to be relocated therem reports the Oxford Mail.

The newspaper says that Susanna Pressel, councillor for Jericho and Osney, has written to Sustrans to ask them to review the decision.

“I’m intensely disappointed,” she explained. “It looks like Sustrans is not going to budge. Even though many resurfaced towpaths are only 1.5m wide at most and work perfectly fine.

"Along some sections of the path, such as next to Aristotle Lane Recreation Ground, it is extremely unpleasant to cycle and walk on.

“So either we have a really dire situation or we have something slightly less than ideal,” added the Labour councillor.

Another Oxford City Council member, Liberal Democrat Jim Campbell, added: “It seems to me very unfortunate if, for the sake of eight inches, we are going to lose sufficient funding for a very important project.

“We are contacting as many people in high places as we can to see what can be done.”

Sustrans spokesman Matt Hemsley said that while the charity was keen to explore ways in which the issue could be resolved, currently there appears to be no way of finding a solution.

“The issue is that this path is not wide enough for our guidelines," he commented.

“We ask for a minimum of two metres and recommend three, because we want it to be safe for everyone. In this case it would be difficult to add on the extra 20cm because of the wildlife issues with water voles identified in the area.

“This issue probably isn’t going to be resolvable,” he added.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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