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

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.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.