THE discovery of water voles next to a towpath has dashed hopes for £200,000 of resurfacing work.
Earlier this year cycling campaigners were delighted when funding was announced to upgrade a neglected 1,100m stretch of the Oxford Canal towpath past Jericho.
But Government-funded charity Sustrans now says the city-centre route will not receive any money because it is 20cm too narrow.
The organisation insists on a minimum width of two metres for “shared use” cycle paths for safety reasons.
And campaigners say there is no chance of the path being widened, because the verge next to the canal is a protected habitat for water voles.
The other side of the towpath is obstructed by a brick wall, so making it wider on that side is impossible.
Susanna Pressel, the Labour city councillor for Jericho and Osney, said she had written to the chief executive of Sustrans asking for the decision to be reconsidered.
“I’m intensely disappointed,” she said. “It looks like Sustrans is not going to budge. Even though many resurfaced towpaths are only 1.5m wide at most and work perfectly fine.
Along some sections of the path, such as next to Aristotle Lane Recreation Ground, it is extremely unpleasant to cycle and walk on.
“So either we have a really dire situation or we have something slightly less than ideal.”
Lib Dem city councillor Jim Campbell said: “It seems to me very unfortunate if, for the sake of eight inches, we are going to lose sufficient funding for a very important project.
“We are contacting as many people in high places as we can to see what can be done.”
Spokesman for Sustrans Matt Hemsley said the charity was willing to investigate solutions, but at the moment it saw no way of resolving the problem.
He said: “The issue is that this path is not wide enough for our guidelines.
“We ask for a minimum of two metres and recommend three, because we want it to be safe for everyone. In this case it would be difficult to add on the extra 20cm because of the wildlife issues with water voles identified in the area.
“This issue probably isn’t going to be resolvable.”