Upper Don Trail receives strong support in Parliament

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MP Gill Furniss speaking in the Westminster Hall debate
The Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP Gill Furniss speaking in the Westminster Hall debate

The Upper Don Trail Trust received strong support from a local Labour MP and a Government minister in a Parliamentary debate today.

The Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP Gill Furniss secured a Westminster Hall debate about the Trail and how it and other similar trails could be funded.

She told the Nature Recovery Minister Rebecca Pow that the Trail had the potential to open up more local countryside between Langsett Reservoir and Kelham Island to a wide range of people.  

“The Upper Don Trail Trust’s emphasis on both active travel and outdoor leisure activities is clear to see,” she said.

“The trail allows for a vast range of activities, ranging from rambling to rock climbing, cycling to kayaking and enjoyment of nature.

“The trust works closely with local councils and other organisations to improve the trail’s accessibility and prominence.

But Gill Furniss told the Government minister that whilst only 2.5 out of 21.5 km of the trail were still unfunded the Trust was still struggling to secure support from Sheffield City Council or the City Region to complete these missing links.

This was because of an emphasis on on-road active travel funding from the Department of Transport.

Funding is coming from the Stocksbridge Towns Fund, from Barnsley Council and from housebuilders Bloor and David Wilson. But Sheffield City Council, whilst supporting the trail in principle, does not regard it as a priority.

Why Gill Furniss says the trail is needed

“Sheffield’s seven hills and busy city roads may naturally put many people off cycling,” the MP said.

“After the Tour de France came to Sheffield, many local people took up cycling. The Upper Don Trail is benefited by its mostly flat route. However, the disconnected portions of the trail mean that it cannot yet claim to be a completely off-road network.

“Active travel delivers immense benefits in a whole range of ways. The Trust’s ambition is for people to use the trail on their daily commute just as much as they would for leisure.”

Gill Furniss said travelling to work, school or college in a more active way had been proven to have health and wellbeing benefits recognised by the NHS.

She said the trail offered opportunities for active travel near tranquil woodland and away from busy roads, cutting carbon emissions and helping to improve air quality.

“But the reality is that the Trust’s ambitious plans need the proper funding to unlock the true potential of the Upper Don Trail.”

How the Nature Recovery minister Rebecca Pow responded

The Nature Recovery Minister Rebecca Pow responds in the parliamentary debate
The Nature Recovery Minister Rebecca Pow responds in the parliamentary debate

In response, the Nature Recovery Minister Rebecca Pow said she fully supported the Upper Don Trail Trust’s ambitions, as did the Penistone and Stocksbridge MP, Miriam Cates.

“I very much welcome the ambitions of the Upper Don Trail and recognise that its objectives align completely with the Government’s,” she said.

“We are absolutely committed to connecting more people from all backgrounds with the natural environment.”

She said more people than ever before had sought access to local countryside during the Covid pandemic. Trails along canals and riversides had been especially popular.

The Government recognised that off-road active travel brought great health and wellbeing benefits.

She said the Government had recently announced plans for a new national charity to coordinate the national network of trails.

Ms Pow said the Government hoped to find resources to expand the current network of 2,000 miles of off-road trails in England.

The minister stopped short of promising funds for the Upper Don Trail.

But she said officers in her department could potentially work with the Upper Don Trail Trust and partners like Sheffield City Council and Sustrans to unlock future funding streams.

Reaction from the Upper Don Trail Trust chairman

UDTT Chair Simon Ogden said: “We are very grateful to Gill for highlighting the many benefits of the trail and the obstacles in the way of completing it.

“We deeply appreciate the support and funding already committed by Stocksbridge Towns Fund, developers and Barnsley Council which mean we are well on the way to achieving over 18 km of the 21.5 km route.

“We just need the help of Sheffield to achieve the last 2.5 km. With the help of the Minister and our two local MPs we look forward to constructive discussion with the council, City Region and Department for Transport.”

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