The Big Challenge: Holding on to country park dream in Sheffield

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“Bike rides bring communities together, I think,” said Paul Antcliffe, reflecting on his work as a ride leader for British Cycling, a member of Cycle Sheffield and the founder of the city region’s Critical Mass Group, which aims be the friendliest society of its kind on the planet.

“In 2009, I was very ill due to diabetes. Any steady-paced bike ride has been like a silver bullet to me. I know how cycling motivates people and changes lives for the better – you’d have to be made of stone not to be touched when you see the joy across people’s faces after our bike rides.”

31 Oct 2016...After years of neglect and numerous arsons Sheffield Council have managed to aquire the land of the Sheffield Ski Village and plans to put it up for sale. Picture Scott Merrylees

31 Oct 2016...After years of neglect and numerous arsons Sheffield Council have managed to aquire the land of the Sheffield Ski Village and plans to put it up for sale. Picture Scott Merrylees

And there are clear environmental benefits of cycling too, Paul believes.

He is an enthusiastic supporter of the idea of turning land at Parkwood Springs into a new park close to the city centre.

“It was supposed to be the lungs for our city, because it’s a vast site, the size of Hyde Park in London,” he said.

“Our council should consider increasing spaces for all types of cycling. There should be better cycle routes, too, and then there would be better alternatives than jumping in vehicles during rush hours for short journeys. We still have bottlenecks at junctions and traffic lights, which almost causes gridlock.”

More jobs at an outdoor multi-sports facility should kick-start our green economy

Signs encouraging cyclists and pedestrians to share space effectively should be extended, said Paul.

“There are wide sections of pavement at Cooks Wood Road, Herries Road and Shirecliffe Road which could benefit more local people if blue share signs were secured to existing street furniture.

“I was deeply disappointed when the cycle lane was removed from Pitsmoor Road, although as I can cycle along a shared pavement at the bottom where it joins Mowbray Street, it makes me think there’s hope. If cyclists were able to avoid traffic lights and congested junctions by sharing more pavements similar to the junction at Pitsmoor Road and Mowbray Street, then we would be on our way to truly becoming a cycling city, as well as improving air quality for cyclists, pedestrians and residents.”

He continued: “The ruins of Sheffield Ski Village are in Parkwood Springs and my heart is warmed to have been told that our council is trying to find new tenants. It should become the UK’s first multi-sport freestyle training facility and a home for elite mountain bikers. There should be a café to meet for steady-paced rides and walks, too. A small hotel to cater for guests with bikes, outdoor equipment and dogs would keep the new Ski Village safer.

Cycle commuting in Sheffield: on the way home through the Porter Valley

Cycle commuting in Sheffield: on the way home through the Porter Valley

“I’m struggling to see how more shops would be helpful at Parkwood when more jobs at an outdoor multi-sports facility, such as our new ski slope, should kick-start our green economy.”

Paul said businesses and the council ‘could do more to change mentalities by sending out clearer messages’ and that, in the face of more cuts, ‘like-minded groups pooling resources and forming alliances could be the best way to make our city a nicer place’.

But Sheffield’s strengths in food and brewing are always a chief attraction of life in the city.

“At the age of 42, in 2009, my early symptoms were consistent with a type 1 diabetes diagnosis. I nearly slipped into several diabetic comas, which could have been the end of my life, I think. My pancreas couldn’t even produce the right amount of insulin to allow me to stay conscious during my second pint, so I only felt safe drinking a pint or bottle of beer.

Sheffield has the best range of cask beer in the UK.

Sheffield has the best range of cask beer in the UK.

“Today, any locally-brewed beer tastes fine to me.”

Paul attended the launch party of Regather’s microbrewery on Club Garden Road, and has a taste for home-grown rhubarb and the fresh orange juice served on tap at the Lane Top Club.

“Although I have to ask the kind-hearted bar staff to water it down for me,” he added.

n The next Sheffield City Region Critical Mass event is the Yule Never Ride Alone, happening next Friday, November 25, from 6pm, following an eight-mile route starting at the Town Hall.