Optimism about filling gaps in traffic-free route in Wells area

May 21 2022
Optimism about filling gaps in traffic-free route in Wells area

By Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter

EFFORTS to deliver a new car-free route between Shepton Mallet and Wells could move forward dramatically in the next 12 months, according to council officers.

Mendip District Council pledged in June 2020 that it would reinstate and upgrade 14 “missing links”  across the district, encouraging people across the district to walk or cycle to work or school, thereby reducing congestion and pollution.

Progress since then has concentrated on the five most deliverable of these routes, including the route between Shepton Mallet and Wells which will eventually form part of the circular Strawberry Line.

Following the opening of a short new section between Wells and Dulcote in March, council officers have now confirmed that all outstanding landowners have been consulted about bringing forward the remaining section during the next year.

Other schemes, including the route between Wells and Cheddar, could also make substantial progress before the new unitary Somerset Council takes over in April 2023.

When completed, the Somerset Circle would provide a 76-mile traffic-free circuit which would link the north Somerset coast (including Weston-super-Mare and Clevedon), Bristol, Bath, the Mendip Hills and Cheddar.

The circle is currently around two-thirds completed, with around 50 miles linked up, and most of the outstanding sections lie in the Mendip or Sedgemoor districts.

The five sections being prioritised by Mendip District Council, which will help to complete the Somerset Circle, are:

• Shepton Mallet to Emborough

• Wells to Westbury-sub-Mendip

• Wells to Glastonbury

• Shepton Mallet to Wells

• Frome to Bath (via Radstock)

An update on each of these ‘active travel’ routes (also known as multi-user paths) being explored came before a meeting of the council’s scrutiny board in Shepton Mallet on Tuesday evening (May 17).

Shepton Mallet to Emborough

Plans for the first phase of the Shepton Mallet to Emborough section were submitted by Greenways and Cycle Routes (GW&CR – the council’s active travel delivery partner) in February.

This section will follow the route of the former Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway line, which closed as part of the infamous Beeching cuts in the mid-1960s, and will run between the A37 Kilver Street Hill and Ham Lane.

If approved, pedestrians and cyclists will be able to travel on the viaduct over the B3136 Bath Road and through a 120-metre tunnel – with the hope that the route can be extended to Masbury and the Charlton Viaduct in the future.

A council spokesman said: “The Bath Road viaduct and Windsor Hill tunnels multi-user path planning application is still out for consultation, with officers working on the licences for the various structures.”

Planning approval and the granting of necessary licenses is expected to be achieved by the autumn.

Wells to Westbury-sub-Mendip (and Cheddar)

The Wells to Cheddar stretch of the Strawberry Line – designed to take traffic away from the busy A371 – relies on the cooperation of Mendip and Sedgemoor District Councils, with Draycott being the most northern point of the route on the Mendip side.

Officers have “continued to work on the procurement of land agent services for the Mendip section”, with a planning application for the first section of the path due to be submitted before the end of the year.

Wells to Glastonbury

Much of the efforts surrounding the Wells to Glastonbury section of the path focus on the existing footpath near St Andrew’s Stream, which runs from the A39 Strawberry Way to Jocelyn Drive.

The council’s asset management group, which makes decisions about the purchase and sale of land and property, discussed the purchase of land in Wells for multi-use paths when it met in confidential session on April 25.

The minutes of this meeting confirmed that the Crown Estate had agreed to sell a parcel of land required to complete one of the paths – and made reference to the Wells Health Centre, which lies close to the St Andrew’s Stream footpath.

The record stated: “It was agreed between members that this purchase would produce benefits such as improved access to the health centre and school which would improve safety.

“The chair concluded that the purchase would be a huge benefit to Wells and would provide greater connectivity to services in the area.”

In the scrutiny board’s report, council officers added: “Work [has] continued with the purchase of land by St Andrew’s Stream in Wells to improve the existing footpath, where a public consultation with local residents was required. This consultation and review will be complete in the summer.”

Shepton Mallet to Wells

The most recent section of the route between Shepton Mallet and Wells was opened on March 4, 2022, comprising a short section between the city’s eastern edge and the Charlie Bigham base in Dulcote Quarry.

New trees and benches will be installed on this section of the route throughout the spring and summer to encourage greater use.

Officers told the scrutiny board on Tuesday (May 17) that “all landowners on the Shepton Mallet to Wells Strawberry Line path have been contacted,  and work is underway to bring forward two planning applications by the early autumn”.

At the Shepton Mallet end, the council approved plans in December for a new short section running from Station Road (behind the Tesco supermarket) to Collett Park, passing under the A371 and through its own car park.

However, progress on delivering this has been slow as different conditions of the planning approval are met, and licences are secured from Historic Railways England and Somerset County Council to allow the public to pass legally under Cannard’s Grave road.

Frome to Bath (via Radstock)

The Frome to Bath section is one of Frome’s ‘missing links’, needed to connect existing cycle routes in the north west of the town with national cycle network route 24, which leads to Bath via Radstock.

The Frome’s Missing Links (FML) campaign group was granted £30,000 by the council in January to construct part of the route between Whatcombe Fields and Great Elm.

Councillor Michael Dunk – whose Frome Market ward includes this stretch of the path – asked the council for an update on Tuesday (May 17).

He said: “This report is a lot to do with Wells, but not the ones in Frome, which are agonisingly close.”

Tracey Aarons, the council’s deputy chief executive, responded: “There is a lot of working going on with our team and the missing links community group. We have supported them with some funding, and they are in consultation about surfaces [for the route].”

• Picture: A section of the dismantled railway between Wells and Shepton Mallet, where the Strawberry Line extension will be delivered (Google Maps)