Hopes for a new off-road cycle trail in East Devon remain an ‘aspiration’ until funding is found

Hopes of creating a new off-road cycle trail on a disused rail line in East Devon remain an ‘aspiration’ unless external funding can be found, it has been revealed.

A new walking and cycle trail on the former railway line between Feniton and Sidmouth would create “considerable benefits” for the local area, an East Devon councillor claims – writes local democracy reporter Ollie Heptinstall.

Independent county and district councillor Jess Bailey says the ‘Otter Trail’ project, which would run via Ottery St Mary and Tipton St John – broadly following the old line – would create a “safe off-road area for very young cyclists”, and offer wider health benefits.

Sidmouth

The former crossing gateway and track bed on the disused Sidmouth branch line near Ottery St Mary. Photo: Roger Cornfoot/Geograph.

The idea has been discussed for many years. Active travel charity Sustrans produced a feasibility report on creating the trail in 2014, when its Devon area manager Paul Hawkins said it would provide “both tourism and local commuting benefits.”

However, he warned: “Delivery of a whole route would be complex, involve many stakeholders and take many years, but with careful planning sections of the route could be delivered to the benefit of local communities.”

In a written question to Devon County Council’s highways chief, Councillor Stuart Hughes (Conservative, Sidmouth), Cllr Bailey added it would also reduce local car use, attract visitors to East Devon and would produce a “substantial boost to the local economy, especially in Ottery and Sidmouth.”

Asked what plans the council has to deliver the scheme, Cllr Hughes said the cycle route remains an “aspiration” but that other projects, including completing the Tarka Trail in North Devon and continuing the Teign Estuary Trail, are the “priority in the next few years.”

His written response to Cllr Bailey, presented to a cabinet meeting on Friday [February 10] added: “There has been investment in cycling infrastructure over several years including the Connect2 bridge and town links in Ottery and development of the cycle network through the Byes and towards the Bowd in Sidmouth.”

Cllr Hughes said “feasibility work concluded that the [Feniton to Sidmouth] trail can only be realised over time and tackling sections as stand-alone projects.

“Further progress will require external funding and we were disappointed not to secure funding for the section through Harpford Woods between Tipton St John and the Bowd following an unsuccessful Rural Development Programme for England bid in 2019.”

He explained that “limited local funding” would be prioritised on completing “missing gaps” in Devon’s cycling and multi-use trail network.

“This approach has seen successful completion of the Wray Valley Trail between Bovey Tracey and Moretonhampstead and during 2023/24 we expect to complete the gap in the Stop Line Way between Seaton and Colyford.

“The priority in the next few years is to complete the remaining sections in the Tarka Trail between Ilfracombe and Hatherleigh and continuing progress with the Teign Estuary Trail between Dawlish and Newton Abbot.”

Cllr Hughes said the council was currently developing a countywide local cycling and walking infrastructure plan (LCWIP) to “refresh and prioritise its long-distance multi-use trails.”

“I would encourage community groups such as Ottery to engage with this process and make representations in support of schemes like the Sidmouth to Feniton cycle route [to give it]the best chance of securing future funding,” he said.

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