WHILE it might never rival Amsterdam or Copenhagen for its obsession with the bicycle, Peter Ward has long believed Preston could become one of the best cities in the country for getting around on two wheels.
Peter, a lifelong cycling fanatic and former Preston councillor, first came up with the idea of building a cycle loop around Preston in 2004 and immediately set to work lobbying support from various quarters across the city.
By September 2005 a preliminary route for the 21-mile path was set out and the Guild Wheel project was formally launched with an estimated price tag of £5m.
A year later, Peter’s team, which included Mike Atkins, a retired Lancashire County Council cycling officer, was working to seek funding and raise the project’s profile as the legacy of the 2012 Guild.
Joining up key landmarks around Preston, including Preston Dock, Avenham Park and Miller Park plus popular visitor destinations south of Longridge and Grimsargh, the Guild Wheel team set about raising its profile. Peter also set out his dream of having sports equipment, leisure facilities and monuments to Preston’s history, dotted around the route.
By October 2010 the cash began to roll in, with NHS Central Lancashire pledging £60,000 to be paid in £15,000 annual instalments.
Health bosses said one of the reasons for the sizeable pledge was because it would promote increased physical activity and contribute towards the health of the people of Preston’.
But in October 2009 a report to Preston Council’s cabinet highlighted concerns that another £1.5m was still needed to fund construction.
A month later Peter announced that Lancashire County Council had set up a project team to try to fill the funding gap and he started a series of public consultations.
With Peter rolling through the public meetings, the county council assigned a team of engineers to drive the project forwards.
In May, completed sections of the route were used for the Guild Wheel’s first public event, a five-mile run and a full cycle around the route which included several diversions for sections which were not passable.
With a major section passing through the Fishwick Bottoms Nature Reserve nearing completion in August, a planning application was submitted for a section taking riders along Strand Road and around to Preston Dock.
Work on this section was completed quickly and has already proved to be a hit with walkers and cyclists in the area.
The Forestry Commission pledged £300,000 to fund six stretches of path which pass through woodland in Preston.
The cash funded 3.5km of cycleway, foot bridges, 13 benches, picnic tables, “natural play equipment”, fencing, gates and tree planting.
Four months ago charity Sustrans, which created the National Cycle Network, pledged £100,000 to be used to construct long sections from Broadgate through Frenchwood Boulevard.
In October a major stumbling block was overcome when the Lea Gate Bridge was rebuilt over Blackpool Road.
The bridge had been badly damaged after being struck by a vehicle and had to be removed.
Now with the 2012 Guild celebrations looming, the team faces a sprint finish to complete the Guild Wheel in time.