A £4.2MILLION project aimed at getting more Colchester people on their bikes has failed to have the dramatic impact it was supposed to.

In 2008, the Government and Essex County Council announced Colchester would be one of 11 officially-designated UK Cycling Towns. The aim was to increase the number of cycle journeys by 75 per cent.

Three years and £4.2million later, county council figures suggest the initiative has made very little difference to the numbers pedalling around the town.

The money was spent creating and improving cycle routes in areas such as High Woods and Greenstead, teaching young riders and encouraging residents to get out on their bikes.

But raw data released by County Hall, in response to a Freedom of Information request from cycling lobbyist Malcolm Mitchell, suggests the money may have been wasted.

Some routes have seen modest increases in the numbers using the scheme’s new cycle paths, especially in the summer, but nowhere near the hoped-for 75 per cent increase. In some cases, the numbers have fallen.

Cyclists approached by the Gazette said despite the improved paths, they tried to avoid the town centre when possible.

Melissa Walker, who is training for next month’s London-to-Paris bike ride, said she had noticed no increase in cyclists on Colchester’s roads and paths.

She added: “When I’m out and about at weekends on my longer rides, I find the only cyclists I see are others like me who are training.”

Mrs Walker, of George Williams Way, Colchester, said she did not like to cycle around the town because she didn’t feel safe because of the traffic.

She explained: “Colchester is just too busy. You’re always stopping and starting. I think a lot of people feel the same.

“It needs more cycle paths away from the roads to encourage more people.”

However, Colchester Council’s Conservative group leader Kevin Bentley, who is also a county councillor and, until May, was the county’s “cycling champion”, felt the scheme had not failed.

He said the changes had laid the foundation for people to take up cycling for years to come.

He said: “Anything which offers people alternatives and provides the facilities has to be a good idea.

“You have to bear in mind this is money which has been invested in Colchester when it could have been spent elsewhere.

“Certainly, facilities like the High Woods Country Park path have been brilliant. These didn’t exist a couple of years ago and now they’re there.”