We fear for the future of our little Greater Manchester village if the council ignores our pleas again

"Some businesses have gone as a result - I’m here by the skin of my teeth"
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The new cycle lanes are part of an active travel scheme designed to promote healthier living and sustainable travel – but they are causing controversy in a Greater Manchester village.

At cost of £1.2million, a 1km stretch of Manchester Road, Castleton has segregated cycle lanes on either side. Now there are plans to extend it further, all the way to Rochdale town centre. When the ‘Phase 2’ plans were put to a survey in September last year, around 70 per cent of those that responded to opposed the plans.

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But the council’s planning officer still recommended the scheme for approval, saying in a report that the 115 postal voters – who were more evenly split on the issue than the 302 who voted online – were ‘possibly’ better informed.

“Response to the survey was relatively high, but primarily from those living outside the scheme area," a report read. "The survey was also completed by a variety of different respondents when looking at age, gender, ethnicity, and disability data.

The new cycle lane running through Castleton village centreThe new cycle lane running through Castleton village centre
The new cycle lane running through Castleton village centre

“All seven junction upgrade proposals recorded a higher level of ‘oppose’ than ‘support’, with a consistent proportion of respondents opposing each one (around seven in ten). Those aged 65+ were generally significantly less likely to oppose each proposal than younger respondents, as were male respondents.

“Those responding online were particularly likely to ‘oppose’ each proposal, whilst opinion was more evenly split amongst those completing a postal survey. Given some of the latter had attended an event, and hence received a more detailed insight into the proposals/junction upgrades, it is possible that they completed the survey from a more informed position, underlining the importance of communicating specific information regarding the proposals.”

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So, in spite of the opposition, the council’s cabinet was due to approve £9,143,800 from the Mayor’s Challenge Fund on March 19 this year. But on the day itself, it was decided to put the scheme to further consultation. However, it’s still expected the scheme will go ahead and be approved at a future cabinet meeting.

Phase two would mainly see the continuation of the segregated cycle ways alongside junction improvements, crossing upgrades, and two 20mph zone sections along Manchester Road. The idea behind these plans is to create safer ways for pedestrians and cyclists to get to busier parts of the borough which coincide with the Bee Network infrastructure coming in.

It is hoped this would reduce the need for short trips in cars. However locals on the streets of Castleton say it has already hurt local business and won’t be used by many. Despite what the aims of the scheme are, there was a clear issue created when the roadworks started for phase one, with delays elongating the struggle for local motorists and businesses.

The memory of roadworks from the last set of cycle lanes, which have only just been finished, is still raw for locals.

Local resident Jeannette Holt stood on the high street Castleton Local resident Jeannette Holt stood on the high street Castleton
Local resident Jeannette Holt stood on the high street Castleton
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“When the work was going on, it was a nightmare getting home, and I can’t see the point of it," Jeannette Holt said. “It just narrowed the road. You can’t pull up and pop into a shop – which businesses relied on. Lots of shops have already shut up shop.

“It felt like forever when it was happening. Parts were shut at different times and it seemed to change each time you came through. Can’t see the point as there aren’t many cyclists using it right now.

"The road potholes need sorting and when the snow was bad in winter, they said there is no money for gritting but they’re spending millions on this. There are better things that money could be spent around here. They’ve not listened to the consultation, they haven’t listened to the people.”

The Castleton resident went on to explain how the consultation period saw large opposition to the scheme. She believes this was ignored by Rochdale Council, who conducted the consultation.

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Stephen Thomas, who runs Smith’s Bakery on the high street, says his family business is still going ‘by the skin of its teeth’. The business has been going since 1928 and the impact of the roadworks when the cycle lanes were being built caused him to shut one of his two bakeries on Manchester Road.

Stephen Thomas, owner of Smith's Bakery in CastletonStephen Thomas, owner of Smith's Bakery in Castleton
Stephen Thomas, owner of Smith's Bakery in Castleton

Due to the cost of living crisis creating sky-high energy bills, around £2,000 a month for him, the scheme coming in was almost a perfect storm that led to a loss of custom. This is because a lot of the bakery trade relies on workers and passers-by popping in.

Stephen said: “There is no support, even though we asked for it from the council and the mayor’s office. It’s part of their vision and future. I’m always the optimist, I have to think it will come good. The fact that this shop is so busy is because we’re good at what we do and we have been for a long while.

“My vision is that when the dust settles people do come back. There is (still hope). Historically, there needed to be an investment years ago for the village. We had three butchers, two greengrocers, a fishmonger and a few banks which have all gone – this has slipped under the radar.

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“This new vision would be a reinvention, whether we could last (to see the rewards of it) I’m not sure. It’s here and there isn’t anything we can do. This is the only village that is going to be affected. Some businesses have gone as a result. I’m here by the skin of my teeth at the moment.”

The business owner was referring to the second phase of the Castleton to Rochdale Active Travel Route which would continue the work that has already started in Castleton. He believes that opposition to the next phase is fallout from the chaos caused by the first phase – but he is hopeful that the worst is over.

Consultation was a sticking point for most residents during the first phase, because despite what they said, the plans for the initial stages went through anyway. The £1.2m plan was introduced way back in 2018 by the then Transport Commissioner for Greater Manchester Chris Boardman.

Kath Dennerly is a local campaigner who has been opposed to these plans since the beginning, she stated how the plans were no use to many, but the council ploughed ahead anyway despite what they said.

The new cycle lane running through Castleton village centreThe new cycle lane running through Castleton village centre
The new cycle lane running through Castleton village centre
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Kath said: “We in Castleton have had problems (with the active travel scheme) since the beginning of 2023 when construction begun. In the so-called consultation meetings in the summer of 2022, the vote was overwhelmingly against the introduction of cycle Lanes in Castleton.

“The proposal was for only a half mile stretch from the local railway station to a local hotel – completely useless for most people. The further plan was to extend the Lanes into Rochdale.

“The main objections to the plan, aside from the fact that we already have a perfectly good cycle path into Rochdale along the canal (route 66), were that Castleton is a small village with many independent traders who rely on footfall and passing trade.

“Local councillors promised that local traders would be approached about incentives and assistance with their businesses both during the works and after completion. No such thing has happened. Several businesses have had to shut their doors with more on the way.”

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Kath went on to explain that a meeting with GM mayor Andy Burnham and Active Travel Commissioner Dame Sarah Storey last November saw residents share their deep concerns about the demise of the village and asked what plans there were to assist local business owners. At the time, Mr Burnham said that there was no obligation to provide funding but would look into the issue.

A follow up meeting on March 20 saw a similar reception to the scheme, but this time Mr Burnham made a commitment to visiting businesses looking at investment and upgrades. However there is still optimism over what this scheme could bring to Castleton, Emily Potts has been a resident in the area for decades and she hopes this change can benefit the area.

Emily Potts, a Castleton resident of many yearsEmily Potts, a Castleton resident of many years
Emily Potts, a Castleton resident of many years

“I do know a few shops have closed down that were busy shops,” the 76-year-old said. “The cycle lane looks nice aesthetically but it needs to boost business.

“Not many cyclists are using them at the moment. I’m hopeful they will soon. It looks nice and I believe we need people to cycle in order to reduce traffic, so that is good. I’ve spoken to cyclists before and they said the usual cycle lane is along the canal, but it doesn’t go directly to the town centre so you would need to go through other roads.

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“It was frustrating when the work was happening. I want to see Castleton improved, but I don’t know what they’re going to do about helping these businesses again. It was sad to see them going away.”

On the roads cars now cannot pull up to stop at shops or do drop offs as the cycle lane hugs both sides. Emily added that this may cause health and safety problems if cyclists are getting blocked off and have to swerve into the road anyway.

She went on to explain that the new car parks highlighted are quite a distance from the shops for elderly people like herself, which could put some people off visiting Castleton ‘to do their bits and bobs’. Emily summed up how the majority of residents felt about their village, all of them wanting a positive change who are hopeful this could work, but concerned about the short-term impact it could have.

A spokesperson for Rochdale Borough Council said: “While highways improvement schemes inevitably cause disruption, the council has put in place a number of measures to support local businesses. These include the allocation of 80 new parking bays within 400 metres of the village centre, which is an increase in the number of parking bays that were available before the active travel scheme was implemented.

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“This parking allocation is higher than originally planned and was increased as a direct result of the feedback we received during the consultation, which saw 362 people respond out of a total of 6,000 people who were contacted.

“We’re currently exploring ways to invest further in the local centre to support local businesses and will be moving these proposals forward in the summer. In addition, Castleton has been identified as a priority area for further investment and brownfield development. We’ve already seen the completion and occupation of a number of new homes on vacant brownfield land on Royle Road and Nixon Street which have boosted the local population and increased footfall into the village centre.

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