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Council receives £400,000 funding for cycling routes, but no indication of plans leaves active travel future in doubt

Somerset County Council is yet to confirm when and where new and improved active travel schemes will be implemented

Somerset Council has not yet confirmed how they’re planning to utilise the money after securing £400,000 of new government funding for walking and cycling routes.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced on March 23 that Somerset would receive a share of the £101m in the latest round of funding to deliver new active travel routes across the UK.

The funding came as part of the government's plan deliver 70 miles of new or improved cycling and walking infrastructure, improved local public engagement, e-cycle loans, and new active travel routes in National Parks, just over two months after a scathing select committee report concluded that the government is not on track to meet its own active travel targets by 2025.

Of the total amount, it was confirmed by Active Travel England that £409,537 will be allocated towards “capability funding”, which can be used to fund the design work for new and improved walking and cycling networks.

However, Somerset County Gazette reports that the council has declined to say how and where in the county this new funding will be targeted.

road.cc also contacted the council for a statement about the usage of the active travel funding, with the council responding: “We welcome the extra funding. It’s too early to say where this will be used as we’ve only just had the announcement, but we can say it will help fund the design of future schemes.”

> Somerset County Council deserves “gold medal” for its words on active travel – but “the wooden spoon” for its actions, says campaigner

So far, no start date for this scheme has yet been announced, with further details of the scheme’s designs and a construction timetable being expected to be made public later in the year.

In December last year, Councillor Mike Rigby, then portfolio holder for transport and digital, said: “Our team is looking what is possible and looking at ways of getting this done that will cause minimal impact to residents and road users.

“Exploratory work has been undertaken to assess the current conditions and width of the existing path by clearing away vegetation and encroachments to determine the viability of recovering width over longer sections of the route.

“Initial investigations have had positive results, and the team are now considering working methodology for undertaking clearance work from Carhampton through to Dunster efficiently with minimum disruption to the travelling public.”

This latest round of funding comes from the active travel capability fund – meaning it must be used for the design work of new schemes and related public consultation, rather than the physical cost of labour and materials.

The council has been working with numerous community and voluntary organisations to try and deliver new multi-user paths across Somerset through a variety of different funding sources.

Active Travel England announces plans to deliver 70 miles of new or improved cycling routes as part of £101 million funding boost – but is it enough to get the government’s active travel targets back on track?

Additional cycle routes are planned in Bridgwater in the coming months, which will be delivered as part of the £23.2m Bridgwater town deal, with £9m of central government funding going towards the Celebration Mile and a further £1m on links to and from the Northgate Docks.

Somerset County Council — what the current council was known as until April 2023 — was earlier criticised by a cycling campaigner, saying that it deserved a “gold medal” for its words in support of active travel – but “the wooden spoon” when it comes to putting them in action.

Meanwhile, the Taunton Area Cycling Campaign said: “There is a marked contrast with progress in Devon, for example. Devon has recognised the economic benefits of traffic free routes, which have become important visitor attractions.

“We are calling on the County, yet again, to show leadership, be innovative, work with communities and up the pace of change.”

Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.

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9 comments

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hawkinspeter | 1 week ago
4 likes

Sounds to me like they're just going to use the funds for "public consultations" which will likely involve paying some mates to wander around asking people what they think about cyclists.

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 1 week ago
2 likes

Yup.  400 grand is a lot of money - maybe enough to do one or even a couple of genuinely useful things with - in one place.  If you were very disciplined and cunning.  For example by applying some uber-Sherlock investigative skills and contacting the well-known local cycling groups for advice.

On the other hand 400 grand is barely even "we made a coffee" level money in terms of public infra (at least motoring infra).  Cycling infra is cheap to build compared to motoring infra - for the good stuff (the only kind it's worth paying for) around a factor of 10 cheaper than (non-motoroway) road infra.  However most of the UK is starting from square one.  So that money needs to cover a) networks of infra in each location, with b) secure and attractive parking and most crucially c) many if not all of our junction designs need re-doing to make them more helpful for vulnerable road users.

Getting too cynical now but - where not blantently misspent on cars infra or buses - active travel monies often seem to get used up on things which aren't *actually* "making safe cycle routes".  That might be reports, consultations, putting up signs, "encouraging active travel" campaigns etc.  Some of these things are reasonably important, true, but crucially they're all things which can be done without e.g. digging stuff up or otherwise causing "disruption" to businesses, residents or motorists in general.

Even when things do get done we seem to do things because they're easier (see last paragraph) or where they're easier.  But the most important thing is tackling junctions and the main networks (e.g. traffic arteries, "main streets").  Which would immediately cause uproar - because they're busy (with cars) because they are generally the direct routes that people want to travel in!

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chrisonabike replied to chrisonabike | 1 week ago
1 like
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hawkinspeter replied to chrisonabike | 1 week ago
2 likes

chrisonabike wrote:

...and of course in the final analysis cycling infra is "driving infra" (if it's good)!

Even really extensive interventions can actually make it very convenient to drive.

I don't like that kind of twisting of meanings as that's the type of thinking that get cycling infrastructure money spent on car parks - less cars parked on the cycle lanes.

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 1 week ago
0 likes

That already happens without the help of active-travel-enthused civil engineers...

That comment is a tongue-in-cheek reminder that all the stuff which people likely don't think they "pay road tax" for (roundabouts, traffic lights at junctions, pedestrian crossings, kerbs, underpasses, cycle paths...) is only there because motor vehicles.

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 1 week ago
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Taking your note a bit further there does seem to be an issue here - it's not a zero sum game but at some point we have to make an active choice for active travel.  At the very least it will be visible - not just stuck down alleys / on back streets / threaded through "waste space".  And it will mean disruption to those walking / driving while new infra is built.  Eventually though we will have to take something from those driving / parking and give those travelling by other modes.

This is bad news - because (despite complaints) it's very good for drivers currently *.  And humans have terrible "loss aversion" issues.

Another difficulty - even some supportive people seem to believe that active travel is something "extra".  That we can somehow make lots of that happen around the existing motor infra.  "Active travel is great!  But don't mention the cars" seems to be the mantra **.  Or "you must keep things positive!  If people think you're challenging / criticising their lifestyle it's an instant turn-off".

But ... at some point we have to address the noisy, polluting, dangerous, space-inefficient elephants filling much of the room.  To get from e.g. 1-2% of trips being cycled to e.g. Danish (never mind Dutch) levels - or even just make our urban spaces more pleasant - will mean a loss of some convenience for drivers.  Perhaps fewer lanes, less parking or parking further away, lower speeds, narrower carriageways, some routes for motor traffic may lose permeability etc.

* Of course it would be even better if only there were fewer driving... Indeed considered as a whole driving appears to be subsidised [very old version of that].

** And for some "...and don't mention cycling either - just 'active travel' ..."

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Gus T | 1 week ago
2 likes

So they applied for the funding with no plans on what to use it for. Great forward thinking.

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stonojnr replied to Gus T | 1 week ago
2 likes

Which I didn't think the scheme allowed for, you bid for money with solid plans that Boardmans team assessed.

But its similar in Suffolk, nearly 8million of funding awarded last March.

They're only just running a consultation on how to spend about 2million of it.
https://www.eadt.co.uk/news/24222874.suffolk-county-council-woodbridge-c...

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Gus T replied to stonojnr | 6 days ago
1 like

My point exactly.

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