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Southampton’s cyclists go head to head with breeding newts

Council wants to narrow underpass to protect great crested newt habitats

Cyclists and newts are in conflict in Southampton, where the council wants to narrow a cycle path in order to pump fresh water to a major newt breeding ground.

The council is obliged to press through the £40,000 plans to service the habitat of the great crested newt, which is protected under EU and British law.

One of the options being considered by the council is to run the 450mm pipe along a shared use underpass below The Avenue, narrowing it by 70cm.

Southampton Cycling Campaign spokesman Dilys Gartside told the Southampton Daily Echo: “I feel this is a huge problem.

The underpass is one of the most used cycling areas in our city. Thousands of people use it and these include students from Tauntons College, King Edward VI School and Southampton University as well as cyclists and dog walkers.

“This is not the place to put a narrowing pipe. One must remember that the protection of human beings is equally as important as the protection of wildlife.

“The council has it in its Local Transport Policy to improve cycling routes in Southampton and says it is council policy to improve cycling and walking and active travel around the city; this goes against that.”

She added: “We want to work with the council to find a better way of doing this.”

Simon Hill, a member of Highfield Residents’ Association said: “The cyclists that use the tunnel go faster down it to gain momentum down the tunnel. Currently it is just about okay, but to narrow it would be unacceptable. This is right at the centre of a point of movement.

“I feel that it would be potentially very dangerous with the different users that use the underpass, and this will be more oppressive in terms of personal safety. There is just about room for two cyclists to pass and if there is a pedestrian on the path then you have just got about the minimum space to do it.”

A spokesman for Southampton City Council said: “The subway option would require a marginal narrowing of its width and some residents have raised concerns as to whether this will make the subway difficult to use.

“We are still evaluating the different options and will take the comments received into consideration when deciding which option to implement.”

One commenter on the story weighed in, saying: “It's a segregated cycle path though and the boating lake was never intended as a wildlife habitat, it was intended for boats but this story is just another case of the council cutting corners at the expense of others yet again, also as others have said, why not save many thousands of pounds and put in a reed bed around the lake?

“I've seen it used effectively first hand at college where the lake was fed by waste water from the on-site hatchery but the water drained into a large pond behind reed beds and it slowly filters through the reeds that absorb any impurities, the water enters the lake so clean that it's one of the few places I've seen southern damselflies breeding in large numbers and even mayfly which need very clean water to survive, would be a better and cheaper option (plus it wouldn't put more stress on water supplies) and it would keep everyone happy.”

Another agreed, adding: “One thing is for certain. IF the width is restricted, sooner or later a pedestrian will be hurt by collision with a cyclist. Then the cyclists will get more bad press or even be banned from cycling on the common.”

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.

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