£700,000 boost for tired towpath
MORE than £700,000 is being spent on restoring a canal towpath in a drive to attract tourists and encourage cycling.
A five-mile stretch beside the Trent and Mersey waterway will be improved in the ambitious project.
Stafford Borough Council is spending £261,870 and Staffordshire County Council is shelling out £458,000 on the route between Barlaston and Aston-by-Stone.
The authorities hope the improvements will increase tourism and encourage more people to cycle to work along the towpath.
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Much of the existing path is little more than rough and uneven dirt track.
Resurfacing work is set to start in the autumn, and the project is expected to be completed by early 2015.
Tory councillor Frances Beatty, cabinet member for planning and regeneration at the borough council, said the investment would be money well spent.
She said: "This is something that local groups and parishes have been asking about for a long time.
"It has been a difficult decision but I think it is absolutely the right thing to do. This will link up two sections of towpath and footpath, which will help us meet our aim of getting people more active.
"There are sections of the canal which are currently quite difficult to access. There are paths, but they're in such a poor state they're difficult to walk on, and certainly not very good for cyclists.
"I am confident that people will use the towpath much more once these improvements have been carried out."
She added that parish councils are also contributing towards the scheme.
Cabinet members at the borough council are set to approve their authority's investment in the project when they meet on Thursday.
According to a report, the improvements would open access to Barlaston Downs Banks, attract visitors to Stone and Barlaston, and give residents the chance to cycle to work at Trentham Lakes.
Rhiann Jones and her family are among canal users who are welcoming the towpath improvements.
The 36-year-old, from Fenton, said: "We've cycled down the canal from Stoke but we decided to turn back once we got to Barlaston as the path becomes so rough.
"It's a shame as the canal is really beautiful. If the path was as good past Barlaston as it is between Stoke and Barlaston we probably would have carried on to Stone."
Peter James, aged 66, who lives next to the canal in Newcastle Road, Stone, added: "I think if the towpath was improved it would see a bit more use.
"There are some parts of the path a bit further up where it isn't really safe to cycle at all. It needs a lot more support, so this investment would be welcomed."
The work is set to be carried out by the county council's contractor Enterprise. Future maintenance of the improved towpath will be the responsibility of the county council.