FROME councillors have voted to purchase a key section of land along the town’s river to deliver a safe walking route for residents and visitors.

The River Frome runs south to north at the eastern edge of the town, providing a natural eastern border for the majority of the settlement and a valuable ecological buffer between the town and the surrounding countryside.

While most of the riverbank is accessible via a public right of way (or the National Cycle Network route 24), a short section lacks guaranteed public access – namely the section between the Old Printworks housing development and The Retreat, not far from the railway station.

Frome Town Council has now unanimously backed plans to change that, voting to purchase a crucial section of land and register the route along it as a public footpath on Somerset Council’s definitive rights of way map.

The section in question lies on the west bank of the River Frome, with the existing path through the land being narrow, overgrown and stony.

While it is not an official public right of way, the route is regularly accessed by members of the public, including dog walkers and local anglers.

The route’s future was threatened when the Planning Inspectorate ruled in favour of four new homes and an employment studio being constructed on The Retreat back in August 2021 – a decision described by members of the Save River Frome Pathway campaign group as “tragic”.

The town council met on June 12 to discuss the proposal, which entails purchasing around 1.5 hectares (just under four acres) between the planned houses and the railway bridge.

The section of land Frome Town Council intends to purchase.The section of land Frome Town Council intends to purchase. (Image: Frome Town Council)

The path south of the bridge will connect up with an existing boardwalk which was recently constructed by the Acorn Property Group as part of the Old Printworks development on Caxton Road.

From The Retreat, pedestrians can follow the existing cycle paths into the town centre via Rodden Meadow – with a direct route into the Saxonvale site being provided as part of either of the proposed redevelopment visions for that brownfield site.

Because the land in question is a ‘flooding water meadow’, it has very high habitat and biodiversity value – with the town council seeking to increase this as part of securing the site and the access through it to the railway bridge.

Councillor Steve Tanner said: “This has massive strategic value for us as a town going forward. It is the link between Spring Gardens and Blatchbridge.

“If we get this link here, you can effectively walk all the way through to where the proposed Selwood Garden Community may be built.

“Acquiring this section basically safeguards that public access across the whole river and through the centre of town for generations to come.”

The land is expected to cost £75,000 to purchase, of which £30,000 will be provided by Frome Town Council.

A further £20,000 will come from crowdfunding, with the remainder being sourced from the Friends of the River Frome and private benefactors.

Additional funding of up to £5,000 may be needed to remove invasive Japanese knotweed from within the site, and there will be an annual maintenance cost to the town council of £5,000 for grass cutting, path repairs and associated work.

In addition to securing the footpath along the River Frome, the town council hopes this project will enable the long-awaited delivery of a footbridge to the Edmund Park estate, which lies on the eastern bank of the river near the town’s Asda supermarket.

As part of the planning approval for 450 homes (which was granted by Mendip District Council in February 2019), Persimmon Homes South West committed to providing funding for this footbridge, which would go under the railway bridge and prevent these homes from feeling cut off from the rest of the town.

Mr Tanner said: “There is some Section 106 money for it – we’d probably have to raise a bit more, but it’s a start.

“Persimmon would build a path from Edmund Park to the edge of the bridge, and from this site you could link through to the Old Printworks and The Retreat up to the railway station and into the town.

“It basically cuts down a 20-minute walk for residents living in Edmund Park to connect with the rest of the town.”

The town council voted unanimously to back the proposed purchase, which officers believe could be finalised “within a matter of months”.

Somerset Council is expected to rule on the request to establish a public right of way along this section of the river by the end of the year; however, this could be delayed if the ruling is the subject of an appeal or other legal challenge.

The project has received the backing of Frome Missing Links, which aims to deliver new multi-user paths across the town to provide better walking and cycling connections between residential areas, employment hubs and the neighbouring countryside.

One of the group’s big aims is the delivery of the ‘southern link’, which would connect the Edmund Park estate to Longleat (as part of National Cycle Network route 24) via a new link under the railway line and the busy A361.

A spokesman said: “We fully support the purchase of this land along the River Frome, as it open up possibilities for connecting central Frome with the Edmund Park estate, as well as helping us to creating a safe route south of Frome towards Longleat, that could be enjoyed by all ages and abilities.

“We have campaigned for many years to get safe routes in place for people to enjoy for leisure or for transport, and we would love to see our southern link plans get a boost with this land secured for the people of Frome.”