A bid will be made for £20 million of government funding to make Shrewsbury more cycle and pedestrian friendly following a Shropshire Council U-turn.
The authority had initially resisted calls from Shrewsbury councillors to submit an expression of interest for the town to be selected as one of 12 ‘Mini Hollands’ set to be created across the UK – saying there were no extra staff resources to work on an application.
But at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, highways portfolio holder Steve Charmley said the council would be submitting a bid after all, following an offer from Shrewsbury Town Council and Business Improvement District (BID) to fund the work.
If it is successful, the money would go on new infrastructure like segregated cycleways, the implementation of ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’, and more highways space given over to pedestrians.
The roll-out of the initiative across the UK comes after the success of the first three ‘Mini Hollands’ created in London, which have led to an uptake in active travel, increased high street footfall and a reduction in empty shops.
Councillor Charmley said: “Cabinet had previously taken the decision not to proceed with an expression of interest for the Mini Holland scheme.
“The reason being that officers are at full capacity with existing and prioritised bids which are already in progress, so there was significant concern that these could be put at risk and significant schemes in Shrewsbury and the surrounding areas could be jeopardised.
“However, we have now been informed that the town council and BID are happy to pay for the submission and pay for the consultants to write the bid itself.
“On that basis we are happy to support the submission of an expression of interest and the leader has indicated that she will happily put a signature on that.
“I do want to be clear that Shropshire Council has to prioritise the whole county and not just Shrewsbury.
“That is why, while supporting this expression of interest, the council will continue to prioritise active travel across the county and work up our Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) as a priority scheme.
“We currently have £259,000 within our active travel scheme budget but we need to complete and implement our LCWIP to unlock further and significant funds as we go forward.”
Councillor Charmley’s announcement was welcomed by Underdale councillor David Vasmer, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group.
He said: “The great thing about winning a bid like Mini Hollands is the palpable benefit for everyone across Shropshire.
“The investment this would bring into Shrewsbury frees up funding at Shirehall to be spent on vital issues across the rest of the county.
“The nationally-recognised expertise we would benefit from can be shared with all towns in Shropshire and up-skill our county.”
The idea to put Shrewsbury forward for the scheme was first raised by Copthorne councillor Rob Wilson through a motion that was unanimously backed by the town council last month.
He said: “This is a great chance for Shrewsbury to win national investment and show that we are taking walking and cycling seriously.
“I’m really glad to see that the council is taking our points on board and are willing to put forward a bold and ambitious bid in for this great opportunity for our town.
“I really welcome the support we are now receiving from the council leader, and can’t wait to start the hard work of winning our bid.”
An expression of interest will be submitted in the coming weeks.