MORE than £2m has been approved to fund a new active travel hub in Barnsley town centre in a bid to encourage residents to adopt healthier lifestyles - a scheme which will act as a ‘catalyst’ for change, according to county leaders.

The South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) approved a £2.3m grant for the scheme, which will see the current hub move from Barnsley Interchange.

It will be a 500-metre square, single-storey building, housing a bike loan workshop, cycle storage, lockers, showers and a cafe.

The Seam digital campus along nearby County Way - already home to two Digital Media Centres and Barnsley College’s SciTech building - has been mooted as a potential location.

Council bosses say The Seam will create a new neighbourhood at the heart of the town centre, and the mixed-use development will include energy-efficient housing, a 400-space multi-storey car park and the new active travel hub.

Barnsley Council’s strategy is to reduce pollution levels and bosses are aiming to achieve a zero carbon borough by 2040 - ten years sooner than the government is aiming for nationally - as air pollution has been cited as the fourth biggest threat to public health after cancer, heart disease and obesity.

A ruling cabinet meeting held earlier this month was told that many commuters’ journeys are less than five miles, so the council believes enticing them to ditch cars in favour of public transport, or active travel, will help towards that.

Steve Houghton, leader of the council, added: “I’m delighted to see this commitment to invest even further in active travel improvements across the region.

“Barnsley - and South Yorkshire - is a place that fosters and grows ambition, enabling everyone to be the best they can be.

“A big part of that is making sure everyone can get around easily, so they can seize every opportunity available to them.

“We’re committed to making sure people can do this, and importantly, that it’s as easy as possible for people to make use of active travel whether that’s walking, cycling, scooting, or using a wheelchair.

“The more we do this and, the more we improve our own health and wellbeing, and the more we protect our environment for future generations by reducing the number of cars on our roads.”

According to a report compiled by the SYMCA, the current hub has been a success - but has outgrown its premises and requires expansion.

It added: “This (the new hub) will act as a catalyst for creating a cultural shift towards active travel for shorter journeys.

“Evidence previously collected by Barnsley Council indicated that the main barrier to walking and cycling was the cost of cycle equipment but if this was removed, it will only encourage and enable residents to take up active travel to create this cultural shift.

“The provision of additional cycle parking within the town centre which is secure and safe will also encourage sustainable travel to and from the town centre.

“Although cycle parking is provided at various points within the town centre, security and risk of theft is a major concern and is a big deterrent of use.

“The provision of safe, secure cycle parking will therefore encourage more sustainable travel as part of journeys to and from Barnsley town centre.

“The new hub will have the capacity to store and loan more bikes, the creation of a repair area will assist with the Department for Transport’s bike repair voucher scheme.

“Barnsley has significant health inequalities and health outcomes which are below England averages.

“These manifests itself in high levels of residents who are obese or who claim incapacity benefit - this scheme will encourage more active lifestyles, which will in turn offer health benefits to residents to address existing health issues.”

Dan Jarvis, Barnsley Central MP, told the Chronicle the move will encourage healthier lifestyles and reduce traffic.

“It has been my long-held belief that we need to do more to both improve and enable active travel and invest in the health, happiness and wellbeing of our people.

stands ready to play a leading role in improving the health of both our residents and the nation.

“We have to make it easier for people to get out of their cars and onto their bikes or their feet as the benefits are clear.

“It will help people lead healthier and more empowered lives by freeing them from unnecessary dependence on their cars, reduce the pollution which is especially damaging to kids and the elderly, and help tackle congestion which is costing us dearly in lost growth and wasted productivity.”