Would you use an off-road cycle path linking Shaftesbury with Motcombe and Gillingham? Some Shaftesbury Town councillors believe that a route cutting through Redrow Homes’ soon-to-be built ‘Cranborne View’ estate at Littledown would offer the best bike access to our town.
During November’s planning meeting, Council members noted that Motcombe’s Neighbourhood Plan makes provision for a cycle route to Gillingham. But as ThisIsAlfred.com discovered, Shaftesbury’s hilltop situation isn’t the only obstacle that proponents of pedal power may need to overcome.
“It’s been Shaftesbury Town Council’s ambition to have an off-road cycle link between Gillingham and Shaftesbury,” explained Councillor John Lewer. “It’s been the intention to map out a route between Shaftesbury and Motcombe to pick up with the Gillingham end of the route that Gillingham Town Council has put in place.”
Motcombe councillor Peter Mouncey serves on his village’s Neighbourhood Plan committee. That group has been producing the blueprint for the parish’s future development and the provision of a cycleway from Motcombe to Gillingham is included in the document. There’s no suggested Shaftesbury cycle link though, and Peter says that gaining permission for a cycle path up the hill could prove problematic.
“Existing rights of way are footpaths, neither of which are particularly suitable for turning into a bridleway or cycleway, which would require formal planning process to do so and the consent of all of the landowners,” Peter said.
Cllr Mouncey has assessed some of the potential cycle path options. “A route could use Woodland Trust property through Kingsettle Woods and that includes quite a steep hill. I’m not sure what the attitude of The Woodland Trust would be to having cycleways within their woodland,” said Peter.
“The other route, from Bittles Green up to the south-west corner of Shaftesbury, is mainly across grazing land and again one doesn’t know what the attitude of landowners might be to such a proposal. The third idea would be to create a completely separate route but no thought has been given to that at all. I don’t think this is ever going to be a short-term project to link to the existing plans for a cycleway from Motcombe to Gillingham, which itself is a long-term proposal. Until the work is finished to create the spine of the cycleway around that corner of Gillingham, there’s nothing for Motcombe to link to,” Peter added.
Although a cycle path isn’t as wide as a country lane Peter says that the hard surface is hard to sell. “It’s getting the landowners on side for what will be an all-weather surface across grazing land. That has been one of the challenges we have faced on the Motcombe to Gillingham part of the route,” Peter said.
John Lewer has also encountered some opposition to cycle routes. “We looked at upgrading a bridleway from Motcombe into Shaftesbury but the landowners were unhappy. They were worried about security, I think. The alternative route, which comes up through Littledown, would have to be considered in conjunction with the current housing plan. That is only a footpath. There is the additional problem of upgrading it from a footpath to a cyclepath as well as making it hard-core enough to be navigable on a bike,” said John.
If a cycle path entered Shaftesbury at the new Littledown development the planners might still need to devise safe passage to the town centre for cyclists. But John believes that this route towards Motcombe, breaking away from the A350 just below the Virginia Hayward site, would be the best option for bike riders. “There is a steep hill whichever way you go out of Shaftesbury but the one that crosses the Littledown site does go at an angle down the hill and it could possibly be made cycle-friendly enough to work. You would have to be serious about cycling if you wanted to cycle in and out of Shaftesbury though. There’s no two ways about that,” John warned.
John is convinced that cycle routes, separated from road traffic, would prove popular if built. “It was a question in the original Neighbourhood Plan survey about three years ago. They asked whether people were interested in being able to use cycle paths within Shaftesbury and from Shaftesbury to elsewhere. Although a path to Motcombe wasn’t specifically named I’m quite sure that there would be support for it, particularly if it’s off-road and it is safe to use, rather than a cycle lane on the main road. That would be a no-no, I think,” said John.
But Peter Mouncey says his parishioners have not been asked specifically about the need for a cycle track up the hill. “We’ve never looked at whether there is demand and I don’t think Shaftesbury has. There would be some evidence needed to support it,” said Peter.
John said that Shaftesbury Town Council had intended to discuss cycle routes with Motcombe Council. And Peter says that Gillingham, Shaftesbury and Motcombe Councils and the new Dorset Authority would need to agree on the need for a route. “There would have to be a lot of commitment between the three councils and the new unitary authority, which will replace North Dorset and Dorset County. We all have to be singing from the same hymn sheet and show a very high level of commitment to make it happen. That is happening with the White Hart Link but that is a much easier project than converting rights-of-way or creating a new right-of-way at a cycleway level, which has to be an all-weather surface,” Peter said.
Cost would be a consideration, too. “I think it could be very expensive and I’m not sure what the grant situation will be once we withdraw from the EU,” Peter said. At the very least, John says that Shaftesbury Town Council should not forget their goal to create a cycle link when they consider any future building projects. “We and Motcombe should be aware of any developments that might obstruct a possible route for a cycle path. They should be flagged up. It should be said that we have ambitions. I would hate somebody to build a load of houses in a place where we’d wished to build a cycle track,” said John.
Cllr Lewer accepts that the cycle route issue has been put on a back burner. “We kicked it into the long grass, not to put too fine a point on it. We can’t see the answer,” John said, but he hopes that the Town Council can develop proposals after next May’s council elections. “Hopefully in the new session, starting next May, we will be able to make some progress on that. We have a backlog of other things we’re trying to get off the ground at the moment.”
If there’s a will within the new Council to find a cycle way, Peter believes there’s a long climb ahead. “We would be unlikely to see anything happening within the next five years,” he said.