Villagers pressing for the creation of a cycle path between Gilling West and Richmond have been told they could face a wait of “hundreds of years” to realise their ambition unless they raise the funding themselves.
Councillor John Weighell issued the warning after it emerged the authority had assessed more than 300 potential active travel schemes ahead of bidding for a share of the Government’s £2bn package “to create new era for cycling and walking”.
Cllr Weighell, who led the council for almost 14 years up to 2015, was speaking as the authority’s Richmond constituency committee considered its response to a 763-signature petition from residents of the Gilling West area calling for a safe walking and cycling route from the village to Richmond.
Campaigner Janette Povey told the committee Government advice stated councils needed to assess the number of cyclists and walkers they would be catering for in the future, but North Yorkshire’s only places with walking and cycling plans were Harrogate, Northallerton, Scarborough, Skipton, Malton and Catterick.
She urged the council not to focus on schemes which were cheap and easy to construct, but on challenging, dangerous routes and to make cycling and walking an easy option for short journeys to and from rural areas.
Mrs Povey said: “The local support is evident and it would be democracy in action.”
The committee was told officers had considered the Gilling West scheme for the second round of the Government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund, but it was discounted for a number of reasons, including the potential £1.8m cost.
Officers concluded the scheme would have “benefits for some people”, but said a suitable funding opportunity was needed to progress it.
They added the scheme had been included on the council’s long list of cycle schemes for when a funding opportunity arose.
Cllr Weighell said he supported residents in wanting to separate cyclists and pedestrians from cars, but many other places were also in need of schemes similar to the one being called for in Gilling West.
He said: “Three hundred schemes at that sort of level are probably going to take hundreds of years to be able to be funded.
“It is the ones with the greatest benefits, with the greatest use, that will actually come to the top of the pile unfortunately.
“To build these things together and to look for other kinds of funding, even for individual schemes, through lottery funding and so on is probably the only way forward because funding for that sort of thing from county budgets would not be realistic for many many many years.”
Mrs Povey replied that Gilling West had been asking for action to improve safety on the route for 30 years.
She said: “If we don’t get on the first step now it might be another 30 years before anything is done and I don’t think that is acceptable.”