Cycling UK has spoken out about a proposed "complete closure" of a Lake District road due to storm damage from two years ago, a council plan which, the charity and campaign group says, would "block off a key part of the National Cycle Network" and force cyclists to use "a narrow section of busy A-road, hemmed in by walls with fast traffic and HGVs".
The road, part of NCN route six along the western shore of Thirlmere reservoir, is "one of the only safe road cycling routes leading towards Keswick", Cycling UK says, but has been temporarily closed for two years due to damage suffered during Storm Arwen and now faces being shut permanently.
Cumberland Council has proposed a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) to close the road to all traffic, including cyclists and pedestrians, with a consultation running until 15 September on the plan to leave "two dead-end roads with no through route and no safe alternative".
The road was first closed in the aftermath of the 'Beast from the East' in 2018 while contractors worked to repair damage caused by uprooted trees. In November 2021, Storm Arwen felled 1,500 more trees and prompted another temporary closure due to disturbed rocks on the crags above and trees blocking the road.
[Thirlmere western road, image by Heliosphere / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
While temporary closures usually do not exceed 18 months, a Freedom of Information request (FOI) showed that the council does not have a predicted repair or reopening date, with "further assessments" scheduled to "gather more information relating to the condition of the hazardous area".
Cycling UK stresses that it acknowledges the importance of public safety, with falling rocks an "obvious hazard", however "there are plenty of roads around the country where falling rocks remain a risk without resulting in the extreme solution of permanent closure".
"There are a variety of mitigating steps in different places, such as fencing or netting — in fact, netting is already used to prevent rock falls on the A591 on the opposite shore," Cycling UK says. "So why haven't these solutions been considered to reopen the route here? Instead, the council is opting to close one of the most enjoyable and atmospheric cycling routes in the Lake District.
"Crucially, any risk assessment seems to have been focused solely on the risk of falling rocks on this road, without looking at the bigger picture of cycle safety. Closing this route forces cyclists onto a busy, and arguably much less safe, A-road up the eastern bank of the reservoir."
[The alternative route along the A591]
An FOI request asking for copies of the risk assessment for the closure and diversion route resulted in the admission that the council's diversion route "only stipulates suitability for vehicular traffic; therefore no diversion route is provided for pedestrians and cyclists at this time".
Cycling UK called this "ridiculous", adding: "Any assessment of the benefits and risks of closure on the grounds of safety clearly needs to look at the bigger picture and what is likely to result from this route being closed, not just the risk of keeping it open.
"We think it's more than just a local issue: it has a much wider impact. The closure shifts cyclists, horse riders and walkers from a safe, quiet road, to a busy, unsafe A-road, without any comparative safety audit. That disregards the Traffic Regulation Act criteria for making an order, and is a flawed decision-making process.
"This section of National Cycle Network route 6 is important for local people living around Keswick, and it's also a popular area for people visiting from further afield, so has wider relevance. Perhaps you have even had the pleasure of cycling it yourself at some point.
"It is also significant that this is within a National Park. All public bodies and utility companies have a statutory duty to have regard to National Park purposes: namely to conserve and enhance their natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, and to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of their special qualities by the public. Closing this road goes against those duties, which is why we think it's important to resist it."
Cycling UK has called on supporters to email Cumberland Council before the consultation closes next week (15 September) and have drawn up a template objection listing the objections.
Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.