Voles one, Velos nil - Oxford towpath plans thwarted

£200,000 scheme to improve path on Oxford Canal sunk due to wildlife habitat

by Simon_MacMichael   December 11, 2012  

Oxford Canal (copyright Simon MacMichael)

The presence of water voles by a towpath on the Oxford Canal has dealt an apparently terminal blow to a £200,000 plan to improve the surface of a towpath on the Oxford Canal.

Sustrans had announced plans to upgrade the surface of the towpath in North Oxofrd earlier this year, but now says that the discovery of rare water voles in the verge alongside the canal will make it impossible for the shared use path to adhere to the minimum width of 2 metres, falling 20cm short.

Many sections of the towpath are in a state of disrepair, and a wall on the opposite bank means it is impossible for the path to be relocated therem reports the Oxford Mail.

The newspaper says that Susanna Pressel, councillor for Jericho and Osney, has written to Sustrans to ask them to review the decision.

“I’m intensely disappointed,” she explained. “It looks like Sustrans is not going to budge. Even though many resurfaced towpaths are only 1.5m wide at most and work perfectly fine.

"Along some sections of the path, such as next to Aristotle Lane Recreation Ground, it is extremely unpleasant to cycle and walk on.

“So either we have a really dire situation or we have something slightly less than ideal,” added the Labour councillor.

Another Oxford City Council member, Liberal Democrat Jim Campbell, added: “It seems to me very unfortunate if, for the sake of eight inches, we are going to lose sufficient funding for a very important project.

“We are contacting as many people in high places as we can to see what can be done.”

Sustrans spokesman Matt Hemsley said that while the charity was keen to explore ways in which the issue could be resolved, currently there appears to be no way of finding a solution.

“The issue is that this path is not wide enough for our guidelines," he commented.

“We ask for a minimum of two metres and recommend three, because we want it to be safe for everyone. In this case it would be difficult to add on the extra 20cm because of the wildlife issues with water voles identified in the area.

“This issue probably isn’t going to be resolvable,” he added.

15 user comments

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How about a 1.5m wide section of path with a sign as you approach to warn you it's narrow and another sign saying beware of the voles
ftfy!

Chris's picture

posted by Chris [106 posts]
11th December 2012 - 16:24

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As it happens, I used to commute this most days and some parts (including I suspect ones that aren't part of these proposals) are (or were... this was four years ago) in a shocking state. But somehow, cyclists, joggers, walkers, houseboat residents (and their dogs) plus assorted wildlife (mind the ducklings and goslings in spring!) seemed to coexist.

All of which is to say... 2 metres would be unheard of luxury compared to what was there before. It's a shame that there appears to be so little flexibility on this. It's a lovely route into the city.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8111 posts]
11th December 2012 - 16:50

7 Likes

Simon_MacMichael wrote:
... somehow, cyclists, joggers, walkers, houseboat residents (and their dogs) plus assorted wildlife (mind the ducklings and goslings in spring!) seemed to coexist.

I suspect that by upgrading the towpath, cycling speeds would be a lot higher so there's more chance of conflict eg startled pedestrians.

We often slate cycle route improvements for not being good enough and parties involved settling for second best. Now they're sticking to their guns - damned if you do, damned if you don't?

posted by CraftyDutchie [5 posts]
11th December 2012 - 18:03

7 Likes

I can think of lots of roads which are too narrow for cars to pass safely. Any chance we could get them allocated just for bikes?!

Exercising my rights by taking them cycling

posted by pedalingparamedic [86 posts]
11th December 2012 - 20:35

6 Likes

My local authority have put a shared use path of less than a metre in place (gateshead mbc between crawcrook and wylam) some parts are also overgrown, A sign (blue advisory) says cyclists join footway, is it Sustrans guidelines or also DoT?

onward ever onward

bikecellar's picture

posted by bikecellar [224 posts]
11th December 2012 - 21:11

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bikecellar wrote:
My local authority have put a shared use path of less than a metre in place (gateshead mbc between crawcrook and wylam) some parts are also overgrown, A sign (blue advisory) says cyclists join footway, is it Sustrans guidelines or also DoT?

They also have a 'cycle path' in Dunston which is actually a pavement and can't be much more than a metre wide in places.

posted by paulfg42 [375 posts]
11th December 2012 - 21:43

7 Likes

Simon_MacMichael wrote:
I used to commute this most days

Did you ever see a vole? Can you set up a hide and get a picture of one? I'm sure the towpath needs improving but on the other hand ... voles are cute.

Noli porcum linguere

captain_slog's picture

posted by captain_slog [271 posts]
11th December 2012 - 21:53

6 Likes

Wind in the Willows

onward ever onward

bikecellar's picture

posted by bikecellar [224 posts]
11th December 2012 - 22:12

5 Likes

Great headline!

Fair enough re. voles as well. Minor disappointment for the cyclists of Oxford but to be fair on the whole they don't have it too bad.

Ghedebrav's picture

posted by Ghedebrav [1098 posts]
12th December 2012 - 10:39

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It's not clear from the article how extensive the vole-affected stretch of path is. It could be anything from a couple of yards to the whole length of the path.

If it's only a short stretch then I find it astounding that some sort of pragmatic adaptation couldn't be implemented; if it affects the whole path then, on the face of it at least, I can see both sides.

Bez's picture

posted by Bez [379 posts]
12th December 2012 - 12:52

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Seems a shame that the money wont be used (unless it gets diverted elsewhere?). Sustrans are a walking charity too, i wonder what their guideline are for footpaths.

STATO's picture

posted by STATO [415 posts]
12th December 2012 - 14:31

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How long is the section that won't conform to guidelines?
If it's only around 100m or so, then surely the path could be upgraded at either side of that. I'm sure many would still use it, even if it meant getting off and walking for 100m. That could still be better than having to ride out of your way, or having to ride on the road when you don't want to.

posted by Flippa [36 posts]
12th December 2012 - 16:36

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@Bez, Flippa: it's pretty much the whole length, I'm afraid.

CraftyDutchie is right: unfortunately, when you settle for second-best, you get a barrage of comments like this, which are pretty much par for the course on certain forums. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Personally my feeling about the Oxford situation (as someone with a little knowledge of it) is that, since Sustrans shouldn't be expected to fully fund something that doesn't meet their guidelines, Oxfordshire County and Oxford City councils should make a greater contribution. If Sustrans' £200k contribution were reduced to £100k, and OCC and OxCity each gave £50k, perhaps everyone would be happy.

Doctor Fegg's picture

posted by Doctor Fegg [135 posts]
12th December 2012 - 21:10

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It's sad but I think Sustrans have done the right thing - I'd not want to cycle along a path that is too narrow, especially next to a canal. I'd hate to come off in to the canal, or knock someone else in! Sick I'm sure they have these path widths for a good reason, after all they've built enough of them.

posted by Myriadgreen [90 posts]
13th December 2012 - 8:24

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I agree with your logic. At least on narrow routes the cyclist should be given priority or is that too much to ask?

posted by Bob McCall [14 posts]
13th December 2012 - 12:03

8 Likes