Carlisle City Council has missed out on nearly £1m of Big Lottery funding after Sustrans lost confidence in the authority’s ability to deliver a Connect2 sustainable transport project.
The Council failed to meet commitments set out in both an initial memorandum of understanding and in its own project plan, drawn up after Sustrans deemed the project to be “at risk” in the light of poor progress made up to June 2010.
Sustrans' Connect2 project is funded by a £50 million Big Lottery Fund grant after the UK public voted the scheme the winner of the People's Millions Lottery contest on ITV1 in December 2007.
But if any of the 79 individual schemes is not delivered by March 2013, Sustrans will have to hand the money allocated to that scheme back to the Big Lottery Fund.
Carlisle City Council’s own project plan called for some elements to be in place before the end of February, but with that deadline not met, rather than risk having to return the allocated £975,000 to the Big Lottery Fund, Sustrans has pulled the plug on the scheme and instead will offer the cash to a project on its reserve list.
The Connect2 project would have made cycling in the Border City a much more attractive proposition thanks to an integrated network of cycle and walking paths that would have linked the north and south of the city as well as connecting with other locations including the Cumberland Infirmary.
But as much as three weeks before the deadline had elapsed, City Councillor Ray Bloxham, within whose remit the project falls, told the Evening News and Star. “It is dead in the water because every time we come up with something they [Sustrans] move the goal posts.
“I’ve been disappointed with Sustrans right the way through. All the way along they wanted to pull the plug on it. We couldn’t get information out of them and we couldn’t get commitments. We brought in well over £1m but we haven’t had a penny from them.”
But with the loss of the money now confirmed by Sustrans, local group Cycle Carlisle has condemned the council’s handling of the affair.
The Group said in a statement: “We are incredibly angry that the council has lost nearly £1m of lottery money that the people of Carlisle voted for to come to our city. The council have just thrown it away. What does it say about what they care about the population they are serving?”
Cllr Bloxham yesterday told the News and Star: “I’ve been asking for three weeks for a meeting with Sustrans and the county council to get some agreement as how we go forward. I have to say that hasn’t been forthcoming from Sustrans.
“We are still trying to find a way through this. It would be a great pity if this money were lost.”
Even now the message doesn’t quite appear to have fully registered with the City Council that the money is no longer available to them. A spokesperson told us: “We are talking to Sustrans and our local partners to try and move forward and keep the funding in Carlisle, we recognise that this may prove unworkable but are still committed to developing our cycle paths across the city.”
A Sustrans spokesman told road.cc: “We have got to the point where the City Council planners have fallen behind to such an extent that we can’t be confident that they will be able to deliver the scheme by March 2013.
“Consequently the scheme has now been withdrawn from Connect2. We have other reserve schemes waiting to go, so as far as the Carlisle scheme is concerned they have lost the money."
He dismissed any suggestion that Sustrans had failed to co-operate in attempting to resolve the matter. “As far as I am aware we have had no direct correspondence from Cllr Bloxham about a meeting [in the last three weeks]. We have constantly been in dialogue with Carlisle City Council through phone calls, emails and letters, talking through what the options are and what we need to see. So we would absolutely refute any suggestion that we’ve given them the silent treatment.”
He continued: “The Council has said one of the reasons they haven’t progressed the scheme is that Sustrans hasn’t released £40,000 in grant funding to them to undertake an environmental survey. But in the original agreement we signed it is absolutely clear that funding will only be released as each of the six elements of the project has been completed. So far, none of the elements has been completed.
“It’s not as if these things are incredibly complex. We are talking about a small amount of money to undertake preparatory surveys that could have been done two years ago. If Cllr Bloxham is serious about the project and has always been so, then why has it taken so long to progress some of the most basic parts of it?”
The Sustrans spokesman continued: “From our point of view it’s a really disappointing outcome as this would have been a fantastic cross-city link. The fact that we were still offering nearly £1m even without the new crossing over the river Eden shows that we still thought it would produce huge benefits. That money will still go to a community where it will produce huge benefits, but unfortunately it won’t be Carlisle.”
Road.cc attempted to speak to Cllr. Bloxham but we were told he was unavailable.