Council considers rural active travel ‘trailblazer’

Helmsley, where hopes are rising that an active travel route will be created. Picture: Google.

Hopes are rising that residents and visitors across the majority of England’s largest county could start to benefit from government funding to boost active travel, as a “trailblazer” scheme to link towns and villages across Ryedale looks to be pushed forward.

North Yorkshire Council looks set to invest £22,000 in starting to develop a proposal for a 40-mile Malton to Helmsley route, via Hovingham and Kirkbymoorside, following years of criticism that its bids for active travel scheme funding have been focused on urban areas, and in particular Harrogate.

The council’s policy to focus active travel improvements on cyclists and pedestrians urban areas where schemes impact on the most people has repeatedly been criticised by rural residents and horse riders who say it leaves them with no option but to travel by motorised transport.

The authority has said “prescriptive” government guidelines for grant funding and competition with other more densely populated local authorities has left it with no choice but to submit bids where the cost-benefit ratio is highest.

However, following an idea previously raised by the authority’s Thirsk and Malton constituency committee, an officer’s report to a meeting of the committee on Friday (March 22) states developing the Ryedale scheme would provide evidence to lobby Whitehall for active travel funding outside of urban areas.

It states: “Demonstrating that rural routes are as important to us as urban routes by beginning development will enable  to continue to campaign to Active Travel England to change the way that they view such schemes.

“Government have already begun to recognise the challenges associated with delivery of active travel infrastructure in these places and are preparing to release newly developed guidance to support this, however, if we can get ahead of the curve, we could be a trailblazer going forward.”

The report states the routes have not been prioritised for development in the council’s existing budgets partly “because delivery is largely reliant on central government funding for active travel which requires the scheme to offer value for money, through enabling large numbers of people to travel.

It adds the project will contribute to numerous council ambitions, ranging from boosting the economy and promoting tourism to improving residents’ health and wellbeing.

Council documents state: “This is a project which is very important to local campaign groups, including Kirkbymoorside Environment Group and Ryedale Cycle Forum, who have long requested NYC support to develop these routes,  however, a lack of available funding given the challenges of making a valid funding case because of a low benefit cost ratio has meant the
scheme has not been prioritised.

” This project will provide us with concept plans and high-level cost estimates with an indicative delivery programme so that if appropriate detailed designs are completed, we can look at grant funding opportunities or fundraising to deliver much needed active travel infrastructure that the area lacks.”

Helmsley councillor George Jabbour said while he was delighted the proposals appeared to be moving forward, funding for the initial piece of work was the first step of a long journey before the 40-mile route became a reality.

He said: “A route would benefit tourism, health, getting to work and schools. We want the route to be used for as wide a range of people and purposes as possible. We will work as hard as we can to make it happen.”