Widespread news coverage has reported that Gwynedd Council are considering a proposal to close the Barmouth Bridge walking and cycling route that runs on the historic railway bridge at the mouth of the Mawddach estuary in North Wales. The proposal is part of a range of budget saving measures being considered by the Council.
Within a week of the news breaking, an online petition has received over 20,000 signatories.
People from all round the world who have enjoyed using this beautiful route are joining with local residents in their plea for the route to be saved.
So what is Sustrans’ position on the issue?
Unsurprisingly, we oppose the closure of the shared use path across the bridge, pointing to the value to the local economy of tourism generated by this historic asset.
Closing the route would also be a significant test of the recently passed Active Travel (Wales) Act, which establishes a principle of continuous improvement of active travel networks within designated settlements in Wales, of which Barmouth is one.
Route 8, the main artery of the National Cycle Network in Wales, uses the Barmouth Bridge as the path meanders from Dolgellau to Barmouth before reaching Snowdonia. Passing over the bridge is one of the spectacular experiences offered on this section of the route – it’s an iconic destination in its own right.
One of Wales’ top five traffic-free routes runs alongside the Mawddach estuary, with the bridge the crowning jewel in what has to be one of the most scenic 9 mile stretches of the Network in the UK.
Its popularity is uncontested - over 100,000 users a year enjoy the unrivalled views as they pass through nature reserves along the trail, in what is a remote area of the country.
We know from studies conducted on the Network in Wales that local day visitors spend on average £8.77 per head during their visit, with tourists spending more like £22.00 a day.
Statistics just published in conjunction with Sustrans celebrating twenty years of the National Cycle Network demonstrate that overall leisure and tourism cycling supports over 15,000 jobs and directly contributes £650m to the economy each year. Whilst the Council itself may not feel the direct benefit of the income, the vitality of towns like Barmouth is very much affected by tourist income and the jobs created.
One of the ambitions of the Active Travel (Wales) Act is for walking and cycling to become the transport mode of choice for short journeys.
Removing the strategic link of the Barmouth bridge would be a severely negative step. Closure of the bridge would result in an 18 mile diversion, and have a significant impact on the hundreds of residents in Fairbourne, Dolgellau and Barmouth who use the bridge each day, forcing people on to busy A roads devoid of properly designed facilities for cyclists.
It’s not a realistic alternative, so the bridge closure would result in additional car journeys with a consequential rise in traffic congestion and air pollution.
So what is Sustrans doing to prevent closure of the bridge?
We are working with Gwynedd Council to explore all options, and we’ll be presenting evidence as part of the public consultation, which will take place during September. Network Rail passes a percentage of their costs for maintaining the railway structure on to Gwynedd Council for the public right of access for the shared use path.
Sustrans has been asked in the past if we would share some of these costs (approximately £40,000 a year). This is something we are unable to do as it is not a good use of charitable income to subsidise walking and cycling routes, to be sustainable costs for maintenance must be a mainstream provision in the same way the local road network is.
We are also doing all we can to promote the route and attract new visitors to the area.
Hot off the press is our new Celtic Tales App which uses Smartphone technology to provide a unique visitor experience, particularly aimed at families with young children. The Mawddach trail is one of six routes featured.