Cycle ways win pounds 42.5m boost

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The Independent Online

Transport Correspondent

A national network of cycle routes covering Britain and Northern Ireland will be created as a result of a pounds 42.5m grant from the Millenium Commission to Sustrans, a small voluntary organisation with a turnover of just pounds 1.5m a year.

The grant, which will be announced today, will fund about a quarter of the estimated pounds 180m cost of creating the 6,500 miles of cycle ways linking 20 large towns. The rest will come mainly from local authorities and government departments. The aim is to have 2,400 miles of the network, including the key spine from Inverness to Dover, ready by April 2000, with the remainder completed by 2005.

The creation of the network is seen by supporters as a turning point. It establishes cycling as a recognised form of transport rather than an a marginal activity undertaken only by cycle couriers and anorak-wearing diehards. David Collins, chairman of Sustrans said: "This is a great day for cycling. The very existence of the network will lead to the creation of thousands of miles of other routes, many of which will be linked into the network."

The success of the bid was almost assured as soon as it was announced. The Department of Transport in particular, which now has two pro-cycling ministers, Sir George Young, the Secretary of State, and Steven Norris, the local transport minister, has recently changed its stance on cycling and now supports it on both environmental and health grounds. The bid had the strong support of Jonathon Porritt, the environmental campaigner who has the ear of the Prince of Wales, and attracted the backing of Chris Boardman, the record-breaking cyclist, and television presenters Jeremy Paxman and Jon Snow.

Mr Collins said: "The bid fitted the requirements of the commission perfectly. It is a genuinely national scheme and it is environmentally friendly.

About half the network will consist of dedicated cycle paths on derelict railways, canal paths and bridleways while the rest will be on existing roads, mostly minor ones. Where the route meets major trunk roads, the Department of Transport has agreed to fund the crossing.

Sustrans, based in Bristol, was created 15 years ago by John Grimshaw, an engineer whose previous career was designing car parks. It was Mr Grimshaw's "vision and stubbornness which has brought us this achievement", Mr Collins said.

Mr Grimshaw avoids publicity and spends a lot of time on the nitty-gritty design of cycle routes, which can prove difficult as the needs of various road users have to be accommodated. His first big achievement was the creation of the 11-mile route between Bristol and Bath, which has 1 million journeys on it every year, half by cycle and half by walkers. Sustrans has created about 300 miles of dedicated cycle paths and about the same length of cycle routes using existing roads.

Mr Collins envisages no opposition from local authorities. "There is tremendous goodwill out there. Local councils across the country have devised all sorts of schemes, but don't have the money to carry them out." He said the network was originally 5,000 miles, but had grown to 6,500 miles because of more local councils wanting to become involved.