The investment will enable surface improvements along five sections of the route. The old, disused railway and public bridleway runs from Guildford to Shoreham and connects with the North Downs Way and South Downs Way National Trails. These sections are currently harder to use in the winter due to waterlogging, and condition assessments and bridleway users highlighted the need for improvement.
The new, unbound surface will drain more easily and be suitable for walking, cycling and horse-riding, including in winter, boosting visitor numbers and, in turn, the rural economy.
The £558,000 is from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, which aims to develop rural tourism by encouraging more people to visit, stay longer and benefit the local, rural economy.
Deborah Urquhart, County Council Cabinet Member for the Environment, said: “This funding is superb news, enabling us to improve the Downs Link so we can do even more to encourage sustainable transport and provide a boost for the county’s rural economy, too.
“The improved off-road route will provide an excellent, family-friendly, free facility so people can get outside and enjoy the benefits of the West Sussex countryside.
“Once completed, the upgraded route and interlinking towns, villages and businesses will be promoted to attract visitors from outside of the usual tourism season of May to October and benefit the local economy.”
Simon Pratt, Sustrans’ Head of Network Development for the South, said: “We identified this section of Route 223 as being in need of improvement when we carried out our review of the National Cycle Network last year. We are extremely pleased to see West Sussex County Council making this investment in the route.
"Improving the surface will make the Downs Link more accessible, including for people who use mobility aids - an important advancement in achieving our vision of paths for everyone”.
The works are due to be delivered in two phases, over 2019 and 2020, with a November 2020 deadline.