Sustrans Connect2 route hits a brick wall in North Somerset

Council rejects planning application against background of ill-feeling

by Mark Appleton   February 2, 2011  

Ashton Court, pic, Linda Bailey.jpg

Sustrans’ ambitious Connect2 project linking Bristol and Nailsea has run into problems over a 70m section at Ashton Court in North Somerset.

The Lottery-funded £2.1m route known Festival Way will offer a walking and cycling path along a corridor stretching from the Cumberland Basin in Bristol through to Millennium Park in Nailsea. It seeks to avoid main roads, creating a largely traffic-free route via the villages of Flax Bourton and Long Ashton.

But a section of the six mile route that falls within the remit of North Somerset Council is proving problematic with the authority’s central area planning committee refusing to approve a planning application for the proposed 70m stretch within the grounds of a stately home.

As we reported last year, most of the route near Ashton Court that was proposed by Bristol City Council has been approved. However, neighbouring North Somerset council felt that development of the route within part of the stately home’s listed landscape was unjustified and consequently rejected it.

The plan involved recessing an existing gate situated in a listed wall and creating a fence on the inside of the wall to allow 24-hour access to the proposed route. But the central area planning committee turned down the application on the grounds that:

“The proposed recessed gate area would be proportionality far too deep for its width and the un-gated and un-piered breach to the east of the relocated gate would appear alien to the historic wall. The new cycle path and associated fencing would reinforce an artificial and modern division through the historic park.

“The benefits from increasing cycle journeys in the area would be significantly reduced if the proposed cycle route fails to link in a safe and convenient manner to the planned cycle route to the south, the route of which has yet to be finalised. The proposed development is therefore premature since the justification for harming the exceptional interest of the heritage assets is not guaranteed at this stage and consequently there are insufficient benefits to out weigh the presumption in favour of conserving this heritage asset.”

There were 130 supporting comments attached to the planning application but they appear to have counted for little in the eyes of North Somerset Council. Sustrans also maintain that it is wrong of the planning committee to consider anything other than the proposal before them and that references to other elements of the route should not have been made.

But there is some additional background to the rejection which, in the words of North Somerset Council’s deputy leader and executive member for strategic planning Elfan Ap Rees, contributed to the planning committee looking at the Connect2 proposal more “more closely” than it otherwise might have done.

According to Councillor Ap Rees, Sustrans and North Somerset Council got off on the wrong foot when the chairman of the steering committee set up to look at the Connect2 project attempted to remove the county’s representative on the basis of some comments that he had made about alternative routing.

Although the chairman was not a Sustrans representative, his actions appear to have been linked to the charity in the eyes of the council as they prevented alternative routes being examined in detail by the committee at an earlier stage in the process.

A second bone of contention is what North Somerset Council apparently consider to be a decision by Sustrans not to provide funding towards a road crossing in reaction to local opposition to its proposed paved pathway through an open space in Nailsea.

“Sustrans has got itself into a bit of a mess locally,” Councillor Ap Rees told road.cc. “These things collectively have not done Sustrans any favours.”

As for the way forward he said: “I have asked our highways officers to look at the alternatives and re-consult locally to get a view on which is the preferred route from a local perspective. We then want to meet with Sustrans and agree that route with them and get things back on track.”

That may be the hope but it seems that both sides, while remaining outwardly cordial, are harbouring a level or resentment and suspicion that could threaten to derail the schedule for delivery of the route by 2013.

In response to Councillor Ap Rees' comments regarding Sustrans, its Regional Director for the South West, Adrian Roper, said:

“I am surprised by Cllr Ap Rees’ comments. North Somerset Council, alongside Bristol City Council, approached Sustrans in 2007 with the aim of getting the Festival Way onto the Connect2 project, which was awarded £50million by the Big Lottery Fund following a public vote.

“The scheme was proposed by both councils to provide a safe, largely off-road, walking and cycling route between Nailsea and Bristol. The route was agreed by all three parties at the time, and a large section of the route is included within North Somerset’s Local Plan. The scheme was awarded £600,000 by Sustrans, and a Memorandum of Understanding signed by North Somerset Council, Bristol City Council and Sustrans based on this agreed route. It is the councils that have the task of delivering the route, with Sustrans' support.

“The public vote from 2007 and the number of North Somerset residents who wrote in support of the recently refused planning application in part of Ashton Court are a reminder of how many local people want and would benefit from this route. In fact, there was only a single objection from a member of the public.

“We understand that Bristol City Council, as applicant, are considering an appeal against the planning application refusal, and we hope in time the proposed route will allow more people to make everyday journeys safely on foot or by bike.”

We’ll keep you updated on this story as it develops, but for the time being it appears that the impasse is as much about a power play between the three principal parties as is about the merits of the actual route.
 

10 user comments

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I note that there were no objections raised by N. Somerset (Tory) council to the FOUR car parks and a new wider access road (for cars) that was installed recently. This is just the usual anti-cycling rubbish that N. Somerset seems to specialise in.

Mike
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Mike McBeth's picture

posted by Mike McBeth [73 posts]
3rd February 2011 - 0:13

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To be fair it is very easy to ride through ashton court as-is. I am all for more cycling infrastructure but this decision wont stop people riding the route, the rest of it is great thus far and as I say, ashton court is easy to negotiate already.

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1080 posts]
3rd February 2011 - 1:00

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Surely the point here is Jon that it is very easy to ride through Ashton Court if you are an experienced cyclist, this route is all about encouraging novice and less experienced cyclists to ride their bikes more often.

The council ruling says, "The new cycle path and associated fencing would reinforce an artificial and modern division through the historic park." So, a bit like the very large car park then?

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
3rd February 2011 - 1:19

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hhmmm .... so they've had the funding, but not managed
to delivery - how very "government" !!!

there's a section, currently, where you're competeing
with the cars going up the hill to the car park and I
can see this putting off a lot of beginners, 'specially
as you'll be very slow moving and the cars will be
getting "edgy" .....

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [693 posts]
3rd February 2011 - 9:00

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-Ashton court closes at dark, which is very early in winter, not useful as a commute option.

-Cllr Ap Rees runs a helicopter museum and fundamentally dislikes anyone on a bicycle or not driving. It's surprising for him to care about anything outside Weston Super Mare, so this must have really got him worked up.

posted by bristoltraffic [14 posts]
3rd February 2011 - 10:23

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@Jon - it can be tricky cycling through Ashton Court - especially along the road outside the mansion, (which is the fastest route through), because there are metal posts with chains stretched across them and bollards at various points! At night I suspect that an unwary cyclist could find themselves coming a cropper. The entrance to Ashton court on the east (Bristol side) is part of a way-marked (Festival Way) cycle route, but in the west (N. Somerset side) the route dumps you on an atrociously pot-holed and busy road through Long Ashton.

I didn't know Ap Rees runs the Weston helicopter museum ... I took my father-out-law there once and had a nice afternoon. I wouldn't have gone if I'd known it was something to do with him! I certainly won't be going again.

Mike
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------ (+) / (+)______ better by bike!

Mike McBeth's picture

posted by Mike McBeth [73 posts]
3rd February 2011 - 15:14

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Premature??? This looks like another one like Weston-Clevedon, which is in the same council's area. I think they last promised around the same time as the dual carriageway from the M5 to the town. The road is built. The bike/footpath still isn't, even though that council has recently moved its HQ to Clevedon hasn't it?

That tory council must be really disappointing to cycling Cameron. I bet it's being cut hard.

posted by a.jumper [693 posts]
4th February 2011 - 0:06

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It's not easy riding through Ashton Court in the summer at weekends, as it's crowded with people and you can hardly move. Also that hill from the College to the car park is deceptively steep, as well as busy with cars as has been said here.

Does the proposed route turn left off left at the bottom of the hill and go through the fields? If not, why not? Would be perfect. I don't think there are any 'historic walls' on that route. Surely there must be some way through all this officious squabbling and nitpicking and posturing. Naive I know.

The completed sections of the route are excellent so far, I use them a couple of times a week.

posted by bikeylikey [162 posts]
5th February 2011 - 21:46

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Don't forget the speed humps on the way up to Ashton Court! Not fun on a road bike.
North Somerset Council are twits. There is already a lot of modern infrastructure at Ashton Court. No one visits it as a stately home, it's a place for play, for exercise, for fun! Surely allowing more people easier access to this can only be a good thing.

posted by Myriadgreen [89 posts]
6th February 2011 - 14:19

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See the map for the proposed route below:

Ashton Court Map.JPG

posted by jonusher [20 posts]
7th February 2011 - 11:28

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