An ambitious scheme to create new cycling and walking routes across the country has won the biggest-ever public lottery grant, far outstripping its rivals in a battle for public support.
Competing against three other shortlisted projects for public support yesterday, the Sustrans: Connect2 scheme scooped 42 per cent of the 286,285 votes in The People's 50 Million Lottery contest.
With the nation's health and the environment becoming key issues, the project captured the imagination of the public.
Dozens of communities will benefit from the improved routes which will involve building bridges, tunnels, crossings and networks of paths with six million people living within a mile of some part of the project.
"There are 79 towns and settlements which are just going to be changed, I think, out of all recognition," explained John Grimshaw, the Sustrans chief executive. "I think this is the start of our culture changing. This gives us all a chance to start again at a personal level and make our own contribution. I think it is hugely important."
The Connect2 project will cost 140m, of which 50m will be lottery money; other money will come from local authorities. Work is due to start on the five-year project in January.
"Our ambition is that, when you wake up in the morning, walking and cycling will be so obviously an easy way of going to work and the shops and to school," said Mr Grimshaw.
The other three disappointed projects which had been shortlisted from an original list of 33 initial applicants were the Eden Project: The Edge; Sherwood: The Living Legend; and Black Country Urban Park.
Sir Clive Booth, chairman of the Big Lottery Fund, said: "It really won hands-down. Given there were four projects, getting half the vote was a big achievement. I think it has captured people's imaginations because it is going to affect their lives right across the UK."
The applicants were short-listed by a Big Lottery Fund committee which awarded 500,000 to six projects to develop their bids before the final four were announced. The finalists were showcased on television and the public given the opportunity to vote on the phone or online.
The Eden Project one of the country's most popular tourist attractions had wanted to fund a new site called The Edge looking at how generations dealt with change. Its chief executive Tim Smit congratulated the winners and said: "Now we have to dust ourselves down and get on with finding the resources elsewhere."
The team behind the Sherwood Forest bid also vowed to carry on their work but explained that the project's focal point, a 100ft-tall tree with viewing platform and visitor centre, will not now be possible. Faye Booker, the bid leader, said: "We'll have to scale down some of our aspirations and we'll achieve them over a longer period."
Sarah Middleton, chief executive of the Black Country Consortium Ltd which led the Urban Park bid, said: "Clearly we are disappointed to have lost out in the final, but we are going to go ahead with the project it just won't happen as quickly."