Help us join up the dots
It's time to join up the dots...
...and have a continuous traffic-free path across the heart of Somerset. Despite years of campaigning by local residents, a planning application for the key segment from Cheddar to Wells gathers dust on the shelves in County Hall, being ignored and disregarded by Somerset County Council.
We need your help to show local politicians that Somerset residents care about a traffic-free path between Cheddar and Wells, and that doing nothing is no longer an option. We urgently need Somerset County Council to break the impasse and bring forward the planning application that has been sitting in County Hall since 2009. People make things happen - so please help by signing our petition now!
So why has nothing happened?
Proposals to extend the Strawberry Line path from Cheddar to Wells began in 2003 when plans to bypass the notoriously dangerous A371 between Cheddar and Wells were abandoned. Intense local lobbying resulted in the commissioning of a £30,000 Somerset County Council review by W.S. Atkins who recommended
"the provision of a safe off-road route for non-motorised vulnerable road users to link the villages and communities along the route between Cheddar and Wells."
Local community groups (working with Sustrans) helped create an Advisory Board of local interest groups and then raised £70,000 to fund county officers' time to develop a preferred route. They also funded an officer to bring it to planning application stage which was duly submitted to the County Regulation Board in 2006, but later withdrawn. In 2010 Somerset County Council finally confirmed they supported the path in principle, but due to financial constraints declined to take the project further without an absolute guarantee of external funding.
Cheddar Valley Gazette, January 22 2015. Cartoon by Mark O'Callaghan
This is the catch-22!
County has made the wholly unrealistic demand that we should give a guarantee that all funding has been found before granting planning permission, but no responsible funding body could commit funds without first having planning approved.
When questioned in December 2014 by the media a spokesperson for Somerset County Council said:
"We progressed the scheme as far as we could through the planning process in 2009 on behalf of the Strawberry Line Association. The Association submitted a business plan with funding strategy in August 2010 with no clear guarantee that this funding could be delivered to build and maintain the scheme. Without the funds in place, the County Council decided it would not be appropriate to progress this planning application while its delivery was uncertain. No renewed proposals to carry the scheme forward have been submitted since."
Meanwhile, neighbouring North Somerset Council and local community groups have completed a fabulous and much-loved 11-mile section between Yatton and Cheddar and are now looking to extend the line to Clevedon and on to Portishead. So you may well ask why Somerset County Council is not leading from the front and actively supporting local residents by delivering on their commitment in 2006. It has always been accepted that construction and maintenance costs would not fall to the rate payer but would be funded through outside grants.
A vital boost for the local economy, through much increased sustainable tourism, would follow from a continuous traffic-free path across Somerset, as the success of many former railway trails in Devon and Cornwall vividly illustrates. It would reduce strain on the A371 between Cheddar and Wells and conform to Somerset County Council's policy to provide 'Safe Routes to School' for children of all ages by offering a traffic-free and healthy journey to schools at both Cheddar and Wells.
Extending the path to Wells would increase tourism and bring huge economic benefits to the region, joining up the following destinations:
- King Johns Hunting Lodge in Axbridge
- Cheddar Caves & famous Gorge
- Camping and caravan sites between Cheddar and Wells
- Wookey Hole Caves
- The medieval city of Wells - the smallest City in England
- The world famous Wells Cathedral, Bishop's Palace and moat
And not least, the Strawberry Line would be an economic and enjoyable commute to work, and a chance to widen access to the Mendips and renowned Somerset Levels in a glorious setting for keeping fit.
So what can you do?
Please sign the petition and show your support for the Strawberry Line path finally being completed. With your help, we can end the marginal status of the Strawberry Line project, and bring it to its rightful place as a priority for Somerset. Somerset County Council needs to know you urgently need the path to happen. District and Parish Councils need to know you urgently need the path to happen. And most importantly those standing for election in May need to know you urgently need the path to happen.