Hundreds join procession to mark opening of cycleway
Monday, September 9, 2019
A procession of over 400 cyclists and walkers celebrated the opening of a new section of the East Lancashire Cycleway in Waterfoot on Saturday 7 September.
Work has recently been completed to reopen two railway tunnels which have been out of use for decades, and extend an existing path, to create a safe and interesting off-road link between Stacksteads Riverside Park and Newchurch Road in Waterfoot.
The route forms part of the Valley of Stone, one of four routes which make up the East Lancashire Strategic Cycleway project. This will create 23km of new multi-user routes and improve 95km of existing routes in East Lancashire.
Total funding for the project is £5.85m as part of the £250m Growth Deal secured from government by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP), with local contributions from Lancashire County Council and Blackburn with Darwen Council. The Valley of Stone Greenway is owned by Rossendale Borough Council
The railway tunnels at Waterfoot once formed part of the East Lancashire Railway and have been out of use since the 1960s.
Work has taken place over recent months to unbrick the tunnels, carefully restore stonework, and construct a new path through them. The tunnels have also been waterproofed, and LED-lighting added, offering enough light for people to see their way, but not so bright as to prevent them being home to bats. A new bridge has also been constructed over the River Irwell, creating a new access from Newchurch Road.
The celebratory opening, hosted by Mid-Pennine Arts as part of the South Pennines Park Walk & Ride Festival, saw an informal procession make its way from Waterfoot to Stacksteads Riverside Park, where people enjoyed food and a range of family-friendly activities.
Graham Cowley, chair of the LEP’s Growth Deal Management Board, said: "Improving sustainable transport options is vital to widen access to economic opportunities and this investment gives people another travel option to commute, or for leisure, while largely avoiding busy roads through the Rossendale valley.
"These schemes complement the multi-million-pound investments which the LEP is already making to deliver the transport infrastructure we need to support our economy and attract further investment into Lancashire."
County Councillor David Foxcroft, who represents the local area, said: "The project to open up the old railway tunnels is a great example of the many improvements we've been making as part of the East Lancashire Cycleway.
"Our work on the Valley of Stone is transforming sections of path along former railway lines which for some time have been inaccessible, muddy, and difficult to negotiate.
"The aim is to create good quality, safe, and largely off-road routes which people can use to get to work or school, as well as for tourism and recreation.
"The tunnels are a really unique and interesting historical feature of the Valley of Stone, and we've already had some really good feedback from local people who have been closely following the work and are looking forward to using the new path."
Councillor Alyson Barnes, leader of Rossendale Borough Council, said: "This is another really positive thing happening in Rossendale, one the council has supported since its inception. We have worked with our partners to successfully deliver this superb scheme and the latest section of the Valley of Stone route, incorporating the iconic Glen tunnels.
"It’s just another great and unique feature for our borough and another great reason for people to get out and about in Rossendale and to get active."
Jake Berry MP, Member of Parliament for Rossendale & Darwen and Cabinet Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, said: "I'm so pleased to see these historic Rossendale landmarks being brought back into use as part of the new Valley of Stone Cycleway from Rawtenstall all the way to Rochdale.
"The tunnels have been boarded up for too long and it's very satisfying to see them opened up so that they can be used by the public."
There are 4 routes included within the East Lancashire Cycleway project - the Weavers Wheel around Blackburn, the Valley of Stone connecting Rawtenstall to Whitworth, National Cycle Network Route 6 (NCN6) linking Accrington to Stubbins and the Huncoat Greenway near Accrington.
Other work on the Valley of Stone has included improving sections of the surface which had become difficult to use due to water damage and the previous stone surface washing out and becoming badly eroded, and building a new cycle and horse-friendly bridge in Stacksteads Riverside Park.