Proposals for making Shaftesbury a cycle-friendly town have been shared with Planet Shaftesbury. On Thursday night the environmental group’s members learned that a cycling circuit could be in place by summer.
The Shaftesbury Neighbourhood Plan consultation revealed that residents wanted to enhance walking and cycling routes. Policies in that planning blueprint reflect the calls for car-free routes that link all parts of Shaftesbury to the town centre and major public amenities. Last May, Walking for Health group leader Peter Wells and cyclist and GP David Grice plotted what they believe to be the safest circular route around the town.
Shaftesbury Town Council business manager Brie Logan is overseeing this project and during her presentation in The Guildhall, Brie explained that ‘four keen cyclists’ had helped to shape the route. A map on the overhead projector outlined this first stage of the network, effectively a Shaftesbury ring road for cycles.
If travelling clockwise, cyclists would be encouraged to drop down Hawkesdene Lane, ride along St James Street and towards Breach Lane into Enmore Green. They would then pedal along Yeatman’s Close to New Road and switch back into town past the Bupa dental surgery.
Cyclists could leave the town centre along Bell Street, crossing Christy’s Lane at the traffic lights by the Fire Station. Their ride would continue along Wincombe Lane, off-road past Tenacres to Thomas Hardy Drive and onto The Maltings, passing the Spar shop. Cyclists would travel alongside the A30 to the Royal Chase roundabout and would complete the loop near Butts Mead.
David Grist believes the network will prove popular. “It links all of the local schools, so it would be good if we could get more children to cycle to school with the relatively safe routes to use,” said David. “The route we have got doesn’t go along any busy roads. It’s either quiet roads, where people are driving quite slowly, or some of it is off-road. It links up a lot of the children’s playgrounds and the swimming pool.”
Some residents are understandably concerned about cycle safety, so the plan has tried to avoid busier ‘A’ roads, like Grosvenor Road and also Christy’s Lane, which it crosses but doesn’t follow. Brie explained that a cycle route along the A350 from Littledown to Grosvenor Road and towards the town centre is being considered. There are also plans to create a bike lane, separated from vehicular traffic, along Christy’s Lane. The existing cycle route past Pix Mead Gardens will be extended so riders can safely reach Allen Road and The Maltings.
As a GP, David understands the importance of children being encouraged to exercise. A discussion during the meeting heard the national statistic that only 2% of children ride bikes. Dr Grice would like a more substantial take-up amongst Shaftesbury’s schoolchildren.
“One of the biggest problems of public health is childhood obesity from a lack of exercise, so this is ideal in addressing that. It helps their emotional well-being and makes them more emotionally resilient because they are getting out and getting exercise and fresh air, rather than looking at a smartphone all the time,” said David.
John Rutter arranges regular cycle rides around Shaftesbury, and he believes that if peer pressure could encourage kids to cycle, that could get cars off the roads. “Having a publicised cycle route to the schools can only be good. If we can build on that to make them want to cycle to school, that takes cars off the street and it’s a snowball. The more children cycle, the more their mates want to cycle and the more they’ll use their bikes,” said John.
Although much of the discussion centred on locals’ use of bikes, David understands the visitor appeal of pedalling around our town. “We can attract people to come and visit Shaftesbury with the prospect of being able to cycle a safe route around the town and visit the beautiful sites,” David explained.
Of course, some attendees mentioned the downside of cycling around our hilltop town – the hills. Planet Shaftesbury member Sue Clifford didn’t want our terrain to been seen as a negative point. She often watches the Purbeck Peloton riders ascend Gold Hill and she sees the potential for cycle tourism.
David and John both believe we need better onward connections for cyclists. “The challenge is to try and join it up with routes into and out of Shaftesbury. For some cyclists, getting out of the east, southeast and the south is challenging because of busy roads and hills,” said David.
John agrees. “Once you get to the bottom of the hills in Shaftesbury, it’s flattish all the way to Bulbarrow and Child Okeford. You can go a long way once you get off that hill, then it’s reasonably flat,” said John.
Brie explained that engagement with neighbouring communities would attempt to extend the network further. The Neighbourhood Plan can only consider policies within the parish of Shaftesbury, so ‘external’ routes would require a special project. That second stage was being proposed.
Brie was asked whether a cycle route to Gillingham was feasible. She said that the idea had been discussed for a decade, but private land ownership had been the biggest stumbling block. One attendee believed that Motcombe Council had now given up on forging a cycling link to Shaftesbury and was concentrating its efforts on a link with Gillingham.
Brie said that Dorset Council’s dedicated cycle officer is also ‘fully on board’ with the first stage of the Shaftesbury plans and the national cycle network Sustrans has also been consulted.
When the weather improves, Dorset’s cycle officer will be invited to walk the circuit. If Town councillors approve the plan, it will be presented to Dorset Council and if they endorse the scheme, it’s hoped that the route could be introduced using temporary signage by this summer.
The Town Council intends allocating around £10,000 towards the first stage of this project. Some of the cash could be spent on signage, although Sustrans might be able to help with temporary signs. Brie explained that cycle route signs could either present the distance between locations or the time taken to cycle there.
Council cash or grants could also be secured to buy more cycle racks and Brie noted that the Abbey View Medical Centre had recently added bike-parking facilities.
One Planet Shaftesbury member suggested that an electric charging point for e-bikes should be considered because of our hills, and Sue Clifford did suggest water stations for cyclists.
Brie said that Dorset Council plans to ‘digitise’ the county’s cycle route maps and put them online. She hopes that if Shaftesbury’s circuit is given the green light, local and visiting riders could one day discover and follow the route on an app.
The Town Council will debate the proposals within the next two months.