CAMPAIGNERS are riding high after a cycleway from Chester to North Wales was finished.
After 12 long years of hard-fought campaigning, the Millennium Greenway is finally been complete.
Once plunged into doubt by plans for a two-lane busway, the route stretching from Mickle Trafford to Deeside is now ready for an eager public of pedestrians, cyclists and horseriders.
The Friends of the Millennium Greenway group battled tirelessly to ensure that their vision of a continuous route was realised and last month, the final piece of the puzzle was completed when the Greenway was extended to Mickle Trafford.
The first report asking what should be done with the old railway line was first published by Chester City Council in 1984. Many argued it should be utilised as a green space.
Then the first promising signs of development came in 1995 when a cheque for £43.5 million was deposited into the Sustrans bank account - a Millennium Commission Lottery Grant to develop the National Cycle Network.
The first phase of the existing Millennium Greenway, from Chester to Dee Marsh, was opened in June 2000.
Sections of the track were periodically completed before the last part was funded by the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) as part of a project which aims to reclaim 170 hectares of brownfield land in Cheshire and Warrington.
It is also an element of Cycling charity Sustrans' £50m campaign to create 79 cycling and walking routes across the country with money from the Big Lottery Fund.
Sustrans will provide 15 years of aftercare maintenance on the same stretch.
No-one is more relieved that the course is complete than Audrey Hodgkinson, of the Friends of Millennium Greenway.
For 10 years she has overcome planning battles and financial demands to force through the project to its present state.
Audrey Hodgkinson fought plans for the £18m Chester to Deeside Transport System (CDTS) bus scheme – supported by John Prescott – at a public enquiry in what is now the Crown Plaza hotel in Chester.
Audrey, who still leads volunteer litter picking and conservation work on the Greenway, said: “It is a wildlife green corridor so we wanted to keep that and we campaigned to protect it because we didn't want it to be turned into a two-lane busway.
“We could see it would be much better used as a cycle/walk way.
“We started campaigning because we said if you're going to bring a busway down there, there won't be room for cycles and pedestrians. You'd have to go off the road in several places, so we really went to town and went to a public enquiry at a hotel in Chester.
“We collected enough money to be able to have three expert witnesses to present our case. Each one said no, it was just not feasible.
“I insisted that we were going to keep on fighting and we had a chance.
“The volunteer group kept it litter free until they decided. They fought and kept on fighting.”
In September 2002, Cheshire County Council refused to assist in funding the busway project and soon after officials blamed a lack of funding as the reason they eventually abandoned it.
The experience mobilised those who wanted the pathway completed and they set about securing the funds that would make their dream a reality.
Cycling campaigner Steve Howe said the incorporation of Chester into the National Cycle Network was long overdue.
He added: “If you looked at the national map, there was a big gap in Chester.
“It was the dead link from North Wales. You could go all round Merseyside and Wirral.
“We were stuck as this embarrassing gap in the middle.”
He paid tribute to Audrey's perseverance over the years.
He said: “She's an absolute star. She was the prime mover.
“She kept badgering people and made a thorough nuisance of herself. She got a lot of personal abuse.”
COMPLETE: Audrey and Ralph Hodgkinson celebrate the opening of the Millennium Greenway after years of campaigning. SB091109GREENW-02