Jesse Norman writes for the Hereford Times.
I had the honour to be among a throng of people going to celebrate the launch of Hereford's new cycle track the other day.
It was a glorious morning, a vast array of local organisations were represented who had taken part in the project, and the whole thing was topped off by a brief and eloquent speech from the great Olympian and world record winning cyclist, Chris Boardman MBE.
The track was originally the brainchild of counsellor Jim Kenyon, and I vividly recall being hit up by Jim for a non-trivial financial donation to support the cycle track in its earliest days.
But latterly the project has been made possible by the work of Halo Leisure, by national sporting organisations, by the City and County Councils, by local cycling groups and by the Stronger Towns Fund. It is one of just 50 closed-loop cycle tracks in the UK, and will be a major local amenity as well as drawing in cyclists from around the wider region.
The work of the Stronger Towns Fund Board, headed by Abigail Appleton, is especially worth noting. I was involved in raising £22.4 million from the Government for the STF in 2021, but thanks to the Board and its projects leads it is already looking as though the match from other sources will be as large again. All together, this will make a huge difference not merely to Hereford but to the whole of Herefordshire.
The first project to go live was the Meadow Arts project of public art sponsored by Herefordshire College of Art. The cycle track is the second. Fairly shortly we should have new electric buses in the city, thanks to the City Council.
Work is already at an advanced stage on the extensions to the skate park. Next year should see the completion of the new Castle Green pavilion. And there will be many more: in all, the STF includes some 15 projects.
This direction of travel is incredibly encouraging. But it is also unlike what is happening anywhere else in the UK. By and large successful bidders elsewhere have allocated funds to a small number of local projects, alongside existing partners.
In Herefordshire the Board has gone much further, working hard to bring new local projects into existence that might otherwise never have seen the light of day.
In many ways it is still early days. But there is a full list of projects on the STF website: https://strongerhereford.co.uk. Anyone interested to support or get involved with these projects should take a look.