Cycle scheme rivals on path to conflict

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The Independent Online
First there was canal fever, then railway fever and now there's cycle path fever.

With Sustrans, the cycle network charity, well into building its 6,500- mile network across Britain, a rival private project for another network is to be launched later this month with support from transport ministers.

And just like those previous crazes, the cycle path mania is set to cause bitter rivalry. National Byway will be a 3,000-mile cycle trail on existing minor roads and is the brainchild of Alan Rushton, the race organiser who brought the Tour de France to Britain two years ago.

Rushton and his company, Sport for Television Ltd, have been negotiating sponsorship deals for the route for the past 18 months and the project will be launched on 20 November at a press conference attended by John Bowys, the junior transport minister.

As well as commercial sponsorship, Rushton has also secured map and guidebook provision by AA Publications. Much to the delight of transport ministers, the initiative involves no government funding. Sustrans was awarded pounds 42.5m from the Millennium Fund last year.

While National Byway will be a non-profit-making organisation, it will pay a fee to Mr Rushton. National Byway has support from the Department of Transport, the Rural Development Commission, the Countryside Commission, and the British Tourist Authority. Private sponsors include Canon, Chrysler, Raleigh and Hovis, the biggest, which will contribute at least pounds 200,000.

Sustrans was not told of the project until September and was surprised not to have been informed earlier. Indeed, cycling groups are concerned that the new project is misleading because cyclists will find few facilities on the routes. The new network which starts and ends in Winchester and links 1,000 "secondary heritage sites" throughout the UK - Sustrans already connects most main sites - is little more than a signposting project as the roads, unlike those used by Sustrans, will not be traffic-calmed. One cycling source said: "This is not a proper cycle network. Cars will be able to go fast and this poses a danger. If Mr Rushton were really interested in improving the lot of cyclists, he would have worked with Sustrans, not as a rival."

Alan Kind, chief executive of the Byways and Bridleways Trust, said: "It's like waiting for a bus. No cycle provisions for years and then two rival routes come along at once."

Mr Kind is sceptical about the project. He says: "The Byway proposal needs careful thought. Ministers must love it as it is a national scheme costing no money, but what will happen when the Byway crosses busy A roads?" He suggests that alterations will have to be made to the road network, in line with those on the Sustrans network, and that will eventually need Government spending.

The difference in approach by Sustrans and National Byway can perhaps best be illustrated by the fact that National Byway will be using donated Chrysler Jeeps to carry out surveys while Sustrans continues to use its collection of folding bikes.