A POPULAR Somerset cycle route will not be upgraded if plans to build hundreds of homes next door are approved next week.

Persimmon Homes South West put forward revised plans in October to build 360 new homes on land south of Canal Way in Ilminster, using the existing access to The Meadows doctors’ surgery.

The site is bordered on two sides by the Stop Line Way active travel route (also known as national cycle network route 33), which links the town to the neighbouring village of Donyatt and the nearby town of Chard.

Sustrans, the charity which looks after the national cycle network, has asked Somerset Council to request funding to upgrade the route, widening the path in key places and bringing the surface up to a higher standard.

But these demands will not be met if the plans are approved on Tuesday (January 9), with Persimmon’s experts arguing the route is not used enough to warrant such a hefty investment.

Improvements to walking and cycling routes are typically requested from housing developers through a Section 106 agreement, with the proviso that this funding must be spent very close to the site of the proposed development.

Sustrans, which is based in Bristol, said there was a good case for upgrading the Ilminster section of the Stop Line Way, arguing that parts of the route were “substandard” compared to newer active travel schemes.

A spokesman said: “Current government guidance says that a shared use path of this nature should be at least three metres wide. The existing widths are variable, with two-and-a-half to three metres along some of the northern section, but in some areas south of Ilminster the path is as narrow as 1.5 metres or 1.75 metres.

“A shared use path of this nature should have a high quality, smooth sealed surface, to be accessible to all users. The current surfacing is generally poor but varies.

“We are working to remove restrictive access controls across our network, and there are several points along this route where the gap between
bollards or gates are sub-standard. These would need redesigning to
permit all legitimate path users.

“The development is likely to increase the number of users of this length of the network. While we welcome more people walking and cycling, this could stretch capacity of the local sections of Route 33.”

To address these issues, Sustrans formally requested contributions of £1.7m from the developer, of which £1.3m would be used to widen and resurface the route from Canal Way down as far as the junction with Watery Lane near Peasmarsh.

The remaining £400,000 would go towards a new crossing over Watery Lane, making it safer for cyclists travelling between Ilminster and Chard.

Following discussions between Persimmon and the council’s planning officers, neither of these requests has been included within the draft Section 106 agreement.

Jubb Consulting Engineers Ltd. (which is based in Plymouth) undertook an active travel survey on the developer’s behalf, and concluded the route was too underused to warrant such a large contribution.

A spokesman said: “The existing infrastructure is sufficient to accommodate the level of increase in movements from the proposed development without the need for upgrades.

“Furthermore, the majority of these trips would involve movements that cross the national cycle network rather than routeing along it, given the attractions to the north.

“A contribution from the proposed development towards upgrades to this section and the associated new crossing on Watery Lane is not considered to be appropriate or justified.”

The council has requested numerous other financial contributions from the developer, including funding for new school places in the town – though these will be delivered by expanding Herne View Church of England Primary School, rather than delivering a new primary school within the Persimmon site.

Nearly £2.8m for local school improvements will be provided, including nearly £763,000 for early years placed, almost £1.65m for secondary places in the local area (either Holyrood Academy in Chard or Wadham School in Crewkerne), and more than £372,000 for special needs provision.

The council has also requested more than £288,000 towards new changing rooms on the Ilminster Recreation Ground and nearly £256,000 for other sports facilities in the town.

The Canal Way proposal is one of more than 50 major applications across the former South Somerset area which have been held up by the phosphates crisis, with additional mitigation needing to be secured to prevent damage to the Somerset Levels and Moors.

To enable development to proceed, Persimmon is proposing to fallow large amounts of council-owned agricultural land to the south of the site, between the Herne Hill nature reserve and the hamlet of Sea.

A final decision on the Persimmon plans will be taken by the council’s planning committee south when it meets in Yeovil on Tuesday (January 9) at 2pm. The meeting will be live-streamed via Microsoft Teams for those unable to attend in person.