RESIDENTS who fear being deluged by hundreds of cyclists, after a local authority approved a new cycle route through an area of outstanding beauty, won the first round of a High Court fight yesterday to protect their tranquility.
In a case spearheaded by local villager Judy Lewis, campaigners in the Wye Valley argue that Monmouthshire County Council’s handling of the cycle route was so “confused” that its decision to grant planning permission in September last year cannot be allowed to stand.
Monmouthshire council granted permission for a local cycle and pedestrian route to be constructed along a disused railway track between Brockweir Bridge and Tintern Old Station in the heart of the Wye Valley’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The conservation area – designated in 1971 by the Countryside Council for Wales – covers a 72-mile stretch of land from the River Wye to an area south of Hereford.
Initially, the council granted planning permission to Sustrans Ltd – co-ordinator of the popular National Cycle Network – for what residents thought would be a local cycle route, but those opposing the project say the route could become linked into UK cycle networks.
Barrister Daniel Kolinsky, for Mrs Lewis, a 41-year-old Brockweir resident, told London’s High Court there had always been confusion over the route, and that the environmental statement used to assess its impact was written on the basis of it being just a local route.
But, when it came to granting planning permission, he said the application had been transformed, to mark the route as part of the National Cycle Network, intended to link up with other routes in the Forest of Dean.
Residents fear joining the cycle route to a national network would lead to too many people travelling through the protected area, as well as adding to traffic and parking congestion which is already a problem there.
If the route forms part of the National Cycle Network, Mrs Lewis is worried “excessive numbers” of visitors to the valley would damage the “unspoiled and peaceful AONB”.
Mr Kolinsky also argued that if the route is to be a national one locals had not been consulted on it.
The issue of whether the route is to be national or local “might well have made a difference” to the council’s decision, he told the judge Mr Justice Stanley Burnton.
Observing that there seemed to have been “immense confusion during the planning process”, the judge granted Mrs Lewis permission to challenge the planning permission at a full High Court hearing, at a date yet to be set.
Rupert Crosbee, Sustrans’ regional negotiator, said after the hearing, “The proposed route will form part of Sustrans Connect2 project, which aims to transform local travel in 79 communities across the UK, building bridges, tunnels and new crossings over barriers such as busy roads, rivers and railways, making it possible for people to walk and cycle to work, shops and schools.
“The Tintern scheme aims to create a route for walkers and cyclists between Brockweir and Tintern, so people can travel between the two in a healthy and sustainable way, avoiding the busy A466.”
The charity, which works in conjunction with local authorities to provide and maintain the National Cycle Network, added that planning permission for the route had been granted following full public consultation, and that the route planned to link Brockweir and Tintern had a key part to play in the maintenance of the Wye Valley’s AONB.
Mr Crosbee said the route would encourage locals to travel by foot and bike, and that more cycle routes in the area could help alleviate its traffic congestion and parking problems.
In 2005, more than 282 million trips were made on the UK’s National Cycle Network, which aims to enable the country’s cyclists to travel by bike across the majority of land in Britain.
The UK cycle network is currently 12 million miles long. In Wales 1000 miles of land are included in the network.
Monmouthshire County Council was not available for comment yesterday.