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Somerset Riders - we need your help

13 Jan 2022


Shepton Mallet Town Council has submitted a planning application to Mendip District Council for a section of cycleway which will form part of the Somerset Circle which in turn forms part of the Strawberry Line

The application can be found on the Mendip District Council website.

Objections need to be in by the end of January so please act NOW! – objections can be submitted electronically via the Comments section of the website.

Some Facts:-

  • The application states that this is for a shared multi user path/greenway. However, equestrians are not treated equally with the report discriminating against them and in addition, disabled users. Not only will equestrians be required to use an alternative road route, but the proposed route will also additionally invite unnecessary conflict.
  • There was initially a report prepared by Railway Paths Limited (RPL) which allowed for full equestrian use. This report is included in the documents attached to the application but will not be the report that is considered.
  • A new report has been created and this effectively 'constructively excludes' equestrian use. This is the report that will be considered (Item 9).

Why is it important to object to this planning application?

  • The principle of multi use (walkers, cyclists, equestrians) has been accepted nationally and Mendip District Council have supported this policy.
  • Equestrians are the most vulnerable of road users. If this application is passed in its current form, horses will be require to use the alternative road route.
  • If passed, the application will set a precedent for future equestrian exclusions on proposed multi use routes.
  • These exclusions are easily avoidable, as the initial RPL report designs allow for complete multi use (including equestrians) of the route but this is not the report that will be considered.

Why do we need full access to this route and other cycleways?

  • Equestrians want to be treated fairly, as has been established with the accepted principle of multi use of cyclepaths, which are constructed using public money.
  • Roads are getting evermore challenging for equestrians to use in safety, this is especially true of rural roads with blind bends, restricted widths, lack of safe refuges and the roads getting busier.

Here are the 3 main reasons why the BHS objects to the application as it currently stands:

VIADUCTS: Although it is welcome that mounting blocks are to be provided - the application states that 'the viaducts are not suitable for equestrians to ride over' - therefore equestrians should dismount. This is contrary to the Railways Path Ltd report that points to the advisory sign 'horse riders advised to dismount'.
THIS MATTERS- it must be left to individual choice because some equestrians are elderly or disabled and cannot easily mount/dismount, some may prefer to ride across the structure.

SURFACE: the application states 'Equestrians will follow the verge' and later 'The grass verge on one side should be carefully free of stones and kept clear for the passage of horses so that they can travel the route without damaging the limestone surface'. 'The verges are to be maintained at 0.5 metre'.
THIS MATTERS: - clearly this is not a shared path but a segregated one. Horses are not to be allowed to share a 3 metre wide surfaced route but to travel single file on a 0.5m verge. Equestrians should not have a separate narrow strip, where there is no maintenance programme stated in the report. There is no evidence that horses damage a stone and dust surface, which is successfully used on other paths including a local one at Dulcote, which is multi use.

TUNNEL: the application states ' Windsor Hill Tunnel is just over 4m wide and 120m long and will be unlit on account of its populations of bats. The report states that ‘it is not certain if it will be entirely safe for equestrians to use this tunnel if the path is as popular with walkers and cyclists as is, for example, our recently opened Wye Valley Path with over 100,000 trips a year through the Tidenham Tunnel there. We propose to manage this combined use on a trial basis (provided the owners, the Historic Railways Estate, allow) and to review the position and the comments by the public on an annual basis.'
THIS MATTERS: - the tunnel is 4 m wide, wider than a standard bridlepath, day light is visible, there are comparable tunnels being used elsewhere, the shared Camel Path has 400,000 users a year. Why are equestrians subjected to an open ended trial and no one else?

Somerset accident statistics are as follows:

In the last 5 years to the end of November 2021 there were 157 incidents on the road reported to the BHS in total, and we estimate that only 10% of road incidents get recorded; of which in the last year to the end of November there were 81 incidents – approximately half. In the last 5 years one horse was killed, 16 horses were injured, and 19 humans injured. In 2021 there were 3 horses injured and 4 humans injured. 

These statistics help evidence the need for the provision of equestrian access to these off-road paths.

Please support the work of the BHS and other groups who are trying to achieve the inclusion of equestrians on these paths. By objecting you will help show the need for the council to ensure that these obstructions can be removed from this proposal.

Thank you for your support – and please do encourage others to write in and object.

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