Strawberry Line link approved

Map of the Strawberry Line, showing current and proposed routes - The Strawberry Line Society

The former railway line looking towards Cannard's Grave Bridge in Shepton Mallet - Credit: Clark Landscape Design

A popular Somerset cycling route will be extended in the new year after plans were unanimously approved by Mendip councillors.

The Strawberry Line is intended to provide a car-free travel route between Clevedon and Evercreech, with different sections being added over time.

Mendip District Council applied in March to extend the existing line through its own car park in Shepton Mallet, linking up Collett Park with a stretch of the former railway line leading to Wells.

This extension will now become a reality after the council’s planning board voted to approve the plans on December 15.

The longest completed section of the Strawberry Line currently lies between Yatton and Cheddar, with smaller sections being in place between Draycott and Rodney Stoke and between Wells and Dulcote.

It is hoped that the line will eventually stretch from Dulcote through to Shepton Mallet and beyond to Evercreech, following the route of the former Cheddar Valley railway line, which closed during the Beeching cuts of the mid-1960s.

Part of the former line runs alongside the A361 Cannard’s Grave Road through a car park near the council’s current offices within the Shape Mendip complex, and then continues under a bridge towards the Townsend shopping centre.

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Under the council’s proposals, a short section of cycle path created along this stretch, connecting the Tesco supermarket to the Collett Park green space, with 35 car parking spaces being sacrificed to make room.

The western end of the path will link up with existing paths around Station Road, while the eastern end will allow access to the A37 Whitstone Road via existing paths to the north of Nightingale Close.

Robin Horton, who is involved in creating the Shepton Mallet Neighbourhood Plan, urged the planning board to approve the plans when it met virtually on December 15.

He said: “We have got to the very end of every possible ‘i’ to dot and ‘t’ to cross. I cannot possibly see that anybody could come up with anything else to criticise this.

“This small but important piece of the cycle network fits in with the aspirations of the neighbourhood plan for the town.

“We just really want to get it done now. We’ve got the small piece down by the recycling centre, and if we can get this done we will have some real momentum.”

The newest short stretch of the Strawberry Line, connecting Wells to the Charlie Bigham site in Dulcote, opened to the public in October.

Councillor Edric Hobbs, who represents the neighbouring Shepton West ward, said he hoped this scheme would lead to further cycling improvements across the town.

He said: “This will be a wonderful extension to help give children safe passage across town to school from the Ridgeway estate.

“Hopefully we get other crossings in soon, across towards West Shepton and the hospital.”

Councillor Chris Inchley, who represents the same ward, added: “In 1999, we joined up Whitstone Road to the Shape Mendip site, and usage of that path is extremely high.

“This plan shows ambition and it allows a safe west-east bypass with a safe travel route in our town. It will have many benefits to the town and has high community value.”

Councillor Helen Kay welcomed the plans but urged caution regarding the removal of any trees along the length of the new cycle path.

She said: “I’m broadly in favour of this – obviously we want to get people moving around without cars, using bicycles and walking about. I’m a bit concerned about chopping trees down.

“There is quite a lot of concrete around Tesco’s, so it’s nice to have those trees there. I was a bit concerned about how many trees are actually going to come down, and whether we might not be shooting ourselves in the foot.

“We’re trying to save carbon by getting people of their cars, but at the same time we’re chopping trees down to make that happen. I see that there’s is a two-for-one planting plan, which is great, but some of those are going to be off-site.”

Planning officer Nikki White clarified that only five trees would be cut down, with others being coppiced and new trees planted around them along the route.

After around half an hour’s debate, the board voted unanimously to approve the plans.