British Waterways has dropped the £12.50 charge imposed five years ago on cyclists riding the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath between Reading and Bristol. It was the UK's first transport 'congestion' charge and cyclists felt they were being singled out as no other user groups had to fork out cash to gain access. Holiday makers were deterred from cycling on the towpath, harming IBDs along the route.

Charges dropped for cyclists on towpath

British Waterways is set to announce the move after securing maintenance funding from local authorities. No permit is now necessary for the Kennet and Avon but free permits must still be obtained elsewhere. Cyclists who have already bought permits this year will be entitled to a refund.

When the charge was imposed in 1997, CTC led a chorus of disapproval, demanding a place on the company’s national users’ group to represent cyclists in the battle to re-establish free access.

British Waterways collected £30 000 from the purchase of cycle permits in the first year of the levy. Now, the six councils administering the areas through which the 87-mile Kennet and Avon runs, have allocated an annual total of £30 000 from local transport plans towards the upkeep of the canal.

CTC director Kevin Mayne said: "We are delighted that the levy has now been dropped. It is a victory for the principle that cycling should be encouraged and that cyclists should not be singled out.

"The permit fee was the first congestion charge in the UK and was directed at the most sustainable of all forms of travel. Our campaign when the charge was imposed forced British Waterways to seek another source of funds. This decision vindicates all the work CTC put into the negotiations."

The Kennet and Avon was opened in 1810 and stretches from the Avon in Bristol to the Thames in Reading providing a rich habitat for wildlife and mile upon mile of attractive routes for cyclists.

It was used commercially until 1920 but by 1950 some sections had to be closed when locks became dangerous. A substantial restoration programme is now underway although some sections are still currently inaccessible


The following sections of towpath are open to cyclists:

* Rose Kiln Lane in Reading to Burghfield Bridge (4.2km) – take care, towpath uneven in places

* Tyle Mill to Froudes Bridge (4.9km) – towpath narrow & uneven in places

* Woolhampton to Midgham (2.3km) – towpath narrow & uneven in places

* Thatcham to Kintbury (15km) – towpath uneven in places

* Kintbury to Station Road in Hungerford (4.9km) – towpath narrow and uneven in places. Dismount for stiles

* Froxfield Bridge to Prison Bridge in Devizes (39km) – towpath may be narrow, muddy and uneven in places. Dismount for steps at Savernake Tunnel

* Prison Bridge to Marsh Lane Bridge in Devizes (1.7km) – take care down Caen Hill

* Marsh Lane in Devizes to Darlington Wharf in Bath (30.4km) – towpath narrow in places

* Darlington Wharf in Bath to Thimble Mill in Bath (1.5km) – proceed through lock flight with extreme care and dismount through Sydney Gardens

* Thimble Mill in Bath to Dolphin Inn in Bath (3.2km) – take extra care – low bridges and towpath narrow in places

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