Ambitious plans for cinder path mired in controversy

by Dave Barry

Bold plans to upgrade the old railway track between Scarborough and Whitby are steeped in controversy.

Sustrans, a sustainable transport charity, has published a highly detailed report on how the 21-mile route could be restored.

But unsubstantiated rumours are circulating among the path’s countless users and thousands of people have signed petitions opposing the plan.

The rumours claim Scarborough Council has sold the track to Sustrans; that it will all be covered in tarmac; and that it will be widened to three metres, causing great damage to the surrounding countryside. None of this is true.

“There's been masses of disinformation”, says cycling campaigner Andy Sharp.

The plan contains many possible options, including reopening the old rail tunnel at Ravenscar, building a new bridge over Scalby beck roughly halfway between Pornic Avenue and Hillcrest Avenue, a new straighter bridge across the beck at Burniston and stabilising landslips just north of Robin Hoods Bay.

If all the proposals were ever to be implemented, which is unlikely, the total cost would be £7.2m.

“The challenge now is to get hold of money to implement the most important parts of the proposals”, Mr Sharp says. “I'm arguing heavily that the priority should be on improving both the track width and surface quality on the section between Manor Road cemetery and the viaduct over the Scalby cut”.

The plan, funded by the Coastal Revival Fund, recognises that the track needs substantial investment and proactive management to protect it for future use by everyone who uses it for recreation, tourism or daily transport, including walkers, horse riders, cyclists, runners and dog owners.

Broad principles for improving the track in relation to drainage, path construction, vegetation, vehicle use and improved multi-user access are set out, along with 41 section-by-section maps depicting proposals and suggestions.

An initial assessment of ecological issues has been made, but the plan acknowledges that more information needs to be gathered and further work undertaken to protect the wildlife corridor and ancient woodland.

A cost-benefit analysis shows that the proposed works would deliver ‘very high’ value for money, in terms of health, journey quality and local economy benefits.

A steering group made up of the North York Moors National Park Authority, the Friends of the Old Railway, Gateway Whitby, Scarborough Council and Sustrans has been involved in the plan’s development. It has taken into account the views of more than 1,000 people who took part in an online consultation earlier this year.

It was carried out for Sustrans by Groundwork North Yorkshire. 78% of respondents said the track needs improving, especially its drainage and surface.

The plan states that tarmac would be used only for part of the track and suggests “alternative surface options” at sensitive locations such as in the national park, which contains most of the path.

Rupert Douglas of Sustrans explained: “We feel that sympathetically restoring the track to a high-quality, all-weather, user-friendly route for all, while preserving the habitat it provides to flora and fauna, will give the local community an asset to enjoy and be proud of and will have a positive impact on the visitor economy of the Yorkshire coast in the long term”.

Parish and town councils and other interested parties have been asked to comment on the draft plan.

The plan will be discussed at by the council’s overview and scrutiny board on 13 September and later by the council cabinet.

If it is approved, the partners will need to find funding to turn it into reality and work with local people to make specific decisions on the path surface, etc.

The track is part of national cycle network route 1, created by Sustrans, and the North Sea route, aka the EuroVelo 12.

The railway ran from 1885 and 1965. It closed as part of the Beeching cuts when many of Britain’s tracks and stations were shut.

The plan can be read on the website www.sustrans.org.uk.