A WIDELY used Somerset cycle route could be upgraded as part of a major new housing development.

Persimmon Homes South West was granted outline planning permission in January to build up to 360 new homes on Canal Way at the southern edge of Ilminster, near The Meadows doctors’ surgery.

The site is bordered on two sides by the Stop Line Way, part of the national cycle network route 33, which connects Ilminster to the neighbouring village of Donyatt and provides a car-free route to Chard.

At the time when the plans were approved by Somerset Council’s planning committee south, Persimmon declined to provide any financial contribution to Sustrans for upgrading the Stop Line Way – something which infuriated many local residents and councillors.

But the developer has now offered a shred of hope, promising that it will provide a financial contribution to enhancing the section of path nearest the development site.

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, the Bristol-based charity which looks after the national cycle network, formally requested contributions of £1.7m from Persimmon as part of the Canal Way development.

Of this, £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, with the remaining £400,000 going towards a new crossing over Watery Lane.

Neither request was included within the report which came before the committee in Yeovil on January 9, with Persimmon’s consultants arguing that the existing infrastructure was “sufficient” for the current passenger numbers and that upgrading section so far from the site would not be “appropriate or justified.”

But Persimmon stated on Monday (February 5) that it would happily make an “appropriate contribution” to upgrading the sections of the Stop Line Way nearest the new homes.

A spokesman said: “We’re delighted to have obtained outline permission for the development of around 360 new, high-quality homes for local people in Ilminster.

“Our proposal includes a substantial community investment of nearly £3.5m, and we’re committed to providing 35 per cent of the homes as affordable social housing on the site.

“We’re in discussions with Somerset Council to finalise this important funding, and are pleased to confirm we’d be happy to make an appropriate contribution to the Stop Line Way improvements as part of our local section 106 commitments.”

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.

A reserved matters application, detailing the design, layout and phasing of the new homes, is expected to come forward later in the year.