Cheddar — Wells
Between Cheddar and Wells, the old Strawberry Line called at a string of villages nestled under the southern slopes of the Mendip Hills, following the flat northern border of the Somerset Levels. It is on these sunny slopes that the eponymous strawberries of the route are grown to this day. The numerous strawberry stalls between Cheddar and Rodney Stoke are a continuing testimony to the longstanding presence of this traditional local produce — and the perfect place to sample them!
The Kings Of Wessex Academy in Cheddar and the Blue School in Wells are both large, popular secondary schools to which the Strawberry Line would connect, thus allowing hundreds of schoolchildren in the surrounding villages to safely cycle or walk to school every day.
The A371 between Cheddar and Wells is a daily disaster area. Frequent narrow and winding sections make it awkward for vehicles, highly dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians, and practically impossible for the elderly or parents with buggies. In some places footpath provision is perilously narrow or non-existent. Communities along the A371 have waited long enough for an alternative.
Over the past twelve years attempts to extend the Yatton to Cheddar Strawberry Line to Wells have proved problematic, and for those keen to see this important path come to fruition, we give the following short history of events.
Proposals for a path between Cheddar and Wells first arose in 2001 when Somerset County Council (SCC) decided to abandon any long term plans for by-passing village settlements along the notoriously dangerous A371. To alleviate problems for pedestrians and cyclists the council's strategy was to provide a safe Multi-user path to link Cheddar Valley communities by utilising dismantled railway track where possible.
At this stage local community groups and Sustrans (National cycling charity) became actively involved in identifying possible path routes and agreed that capital construction costs should be sourced through external grant funding rather than financed by county.
A sum of £50,000 was allocated by SCC in 2005 to finance a Project Officer to head an Advisory Board of local community groups to study possible path options and recommend a preferred route. In 2006, following Advisory Board's recommendations, SCC Highways submitted a planning application for a Multi-user path from Labourham Road housing development (east of Kings of Wessex School) to Glencot Lane, Haybridge, Wells. This would join the now completed Haybridge to Wells Leisure Centre path.
However this application was later withdrawn by SCC stating that further environmental and ecological surveys were needed. Following the completion of additional surveys in November 2007 SCC's Head of Physical Regeneration announced that new plans were expected to be submitted in July 2008 and that a further £50,000 had been spent on survey and consultation work. But nothing further materialised.
Some two years later in March 2010 SCC advised local community groups that they now had concerns about the path proposals stating “we would like to be assured that if we apply for planning permission the Strawberry Line Association (SLA) has a business plan and organisational structure capable of raising the funding and project managing delivery of such a large scheme should permission be granted”.
In September 2010 a Business Plan/Funding Strategy document was duly completed by the local community and submitted to SCC. This was rejected in December 2012 by county stating that the plan failed to meet its purpose and therefore could not support the expenditure of further County Council funding and other resources on this scheme.
This was a surprise setback as the Strawberry Line Association (SLA) understood that all work had been completed in formulating the planning application and that there would be no further officer time needed in submitting the application to the Regulation Committee.