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Funding sought for safe cycling routes and walking paths across north

By Alan Hendry

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Highland Council and NHS Highland want to ensure people can cycle and walk safely while making essential journeys and taking daily exercise.
Highland Council and NHS Highland want to ensure people can cycle and walk safely while making essential journeys and taking daily exercise.

Plans are being drawn up for footpath widening, temporary bike lanes and other safe travel measures around the Highlands in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Highland Council and NHS Highland have submitted a bid to the Scottish Government’s Spaces for People fund seeking support for a programme that will help ensure people can walk, wheel and cycle safely while making essential journeys and taking daily exercise.

If the bid is successful, towns across the region will see a roll-out of temporary walking, wheeling and cycling infrastructure over the coming weeks and months.

By delivering safe active travel connections to healthcare facilities and other destinations, the proposals aim to maximise the opportunities for social distancing. They are also being seen as providing a necessary springboard for town and city centre recovery and regeneration when lockdown measures are eased.

Highland Council says a "rapid programme of work" has been carried out to submit the initial funding application. However, it adds, this is "only the start of the conversation" and proposed schemes will be reviewed, monitored and evaluated as they emerge.

Communities, businesses and other stakeholders are being encouraged to get involved. The council set up a consultation so that members of the public can share their views on the safe travel ideas.

Councillor Trish Robertson, chairperson of Highland Council’s economy and infrastructure committee, said: “I am delighted to be promoting this bid to the Spaces for People fund. A number of key interventions have been identified to help essential workers on their journey to work as well as assisting with people being able to maintain physical distancing.

"The temporary measures proposed will enable more active travel in a safer environment and promote opportunities for the re-imagining of our streets, town and city centres as we emerge from this crisis. The council is committed to ensuring a healthy and safe environment is central to the response to the climate and ecological emergency, and this remains a key focus of our work.”

Dan Jenkins, of NHS Highland’s health improvement team, said: “Personal safety along key routes of travel is a major concern and a real danger where adequate provision and segregation is not in place for cyclists and pedestrians.

"Those who cannot afford or cannot access a car are additionally disadvantaged at this time. With current social distancing and movement restrictions, active travel may be the only opportunity some people have to be physically active to remain healthy.

"This application is an excellent example of how a range of immediate benefits for mitigation of Covid-19 will be achieved through improved infrastructure.”

The council emphasises that it is an initial bid. It says it will welcome comment through the portal both on the proposed measures but also on any other locations where additional measures could be introduced.

The consultation portal has been designed to be interactive and simple to use. It can be found at https://consult.highland.gov.uk/kse

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