MEMBERS of a cycling group have welcomed a government announcement asking local authorities to improve walking and cycling infrastructure in response to coronavirus.

Members of Darlovelo, which campaigns on cycling issues in Darlington, have welcomed the announcement from Grant Shapps MP, transport secretary, where he encourages "active travel" like walking and cycling, which is affordable, healthy, improves wellbeing, mitigates congestion, improves air quality and has no carbon emissions at the point of use".

Publishing guidance on May 9, Mr Shapps said towns and cities based around active travel will have happier and healthier citizens as well as lasting local economic benefits, and is urging councils to act "as swiftly as possible" and "in a matter of weeks" – a call that Darlovelo is reminding the council of.

Action could include the closure of roads with additional signage and cones to widen paths and allow for socially distanced walking.

Green councillor Matthew Snedker, chair of Darlovelo, said; “It is great news that the kind of investment the we have been asking Darlington to make has been backed by Mr Shapps.

"We need to create safe, joined-up routes for people to walk and cycle for exercise and safe socially distanced travel. Safely connecting our residential areas with the town centre and transport hubs such as Bank Top and North Road stations as well as employment centres must be a top priority.

“I would like to remind the council that not only does the government expect local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts within a matter of weeks, but also local authorities have both a statutory and common law duty to act to secure the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.”

Darlovelo campaigns for the likes of street closures around the school rush, pedestrian and cycle only streets and a whole route approach in and out of Darlington.

Councillor Andy Keir, the council’s cabinet member for local services, says the town is fortunate to have established cycle routes and a pedestrianised town centre, allowing appropriate space for social distancing.

He said: "I have been working closely with officers to develop plans in this area and would like to reassure residents that their safety is our top priority.

"Recovery plans were already being developed prior to the government’s announcement, and many new measures have been made available to councils that cover both towns and cities alike.

"These will need to be assessed carefully before we decide what is right for Darlington and our next steps will need to be coordinated with the government’s plan to gradually release lockdown. Needless to say, we will make every effort to keep people well informed.”

Duncan Buckingham, vice chair of Darlovelo added: “Already in the UK we have seen cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, York, London, Brighton and Leicester take bold steps to enabling safe active travel.

"We enjoy a good rapport with Darlington Borough Council officers and members, and we invite them to work in partnership with us to ensure that this town delivers the vision for safe socially distanced active travel that is being promoted."