A new £29million ambitious ‘cycle superhighway’ between Bradford and Leeds has been approved – and it is hoped it will improve the economy, environment, road safety and people’s health.

The Department of Transport has today given the go-ahead for the cycle superhighway, dubbed ‘Highway to Health’, to create a 23-kilometre connection between the two cities.

The ambitious plans were submitted to the DfT in the form of a joint proposal between Metro, Leeds City Council and Bradford Council.

The plans will include an east/west cross-city superhighway consisting of largely segregated cycle provision, resurfacing of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal towpath between Shipley and Armley, secure bike parking areas, and 20mph zones for vehicles.

Upgrading the 14 miles of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal towpath means it will become the longest continuous cycleway in the north of England, connecting key employment and regeneration sites in both cities.

In Bradford, cycle lanes will be introduced on Leeds Old Road to its junction with Killinghall Road, and then in sections to the junction with Shipley Airedale Road. Existing cycle lanes will be upgraded along Church Bank through to the Westfield site and the city centre.

Up to £18million will come from the DfT for the project, with £11 million of local funding coming from the two councils and Metro.

Metro will pay around £7.5 million while Bradford Council will pay 25 per cent of the remainder and Leeds Council 75 per cent, reflecting the fact that a larger amount of the cycle superhighway will fall under Leeds Council’s remit.

Councillor Val Slater, Bradford Council's executive member for Transport, said: “This funding is fantastic and is a great boost for us to create a high quality cycle route between Leeds and Bradford. The funding will also be used to improve the towpath between Leeds and Shipley, create 20mph zones in communities along the route and create cycle parking facilities.

“It is an exciting initiative that will help encourage more people to make safer cycling journeys for both work and leisure. It should also give children more confidence to cycle and improve their physical activity and health.

“This will connect with some of the key employment sites in the area, so people will be able to look at alternative models of transport to work.

“It will help increase physical activity and get more people onto bikes.

“Part of it will go along Old Leeds Road, which include some of our most deprived communities, so a big part will be how we can encourage young people from that area who wouldn’t normally cycle to take it up.”

Coun James Lewis, chairman of Metro, said: “The ambition is that over the next ten years this route linking the city centres acts as a hub, and there are a lot more spokes being created that lead to other areas.

“There will also be projects to encourage people to get back on their bikes even though they might not have ridden in years. We want to get the number of people riding bikes regularly to grow.

“By providing safe, convenient and attractive links and connectivity with employment sites, areas of housing growth and key economic regeneration sites, it will encourage more people to use their bikes for commuting to and from work and help reduce the dependency on private cars.”

But Coun Glen Miller, leader of the Conservative group on the Council, said: “It is a surprise to me, although it comes as no surprise that I have not been told about it.

“It is yet another pie in the sky idea brought forward – and yet again opposition parties are not involved.”

He added: “We must remember road users pay a lot in petrol and road tax. And there are more road users than cyclists.”

Coun Jeanette Sunderland, leader of the Liberal Democrats on the Council and a keen cyclist, said: “I think, as a cyclist, I would really welcome more spaces for people to cycle in. But I am not sure of the benefit of cycling from Leeds to Bradford.

“Lots of people cycle from Leeds to Bradford along the canal anyway.”

She added that statistics showed more cyclists were getting hurt on Bradford’s roads. She said: “We need to encourage more safety on roads to get more people on their bikes. It is really risky cycling on Bradford’s roads.

“I welcome it as long as there are links to communities and we do stuff for young people. They need to be trained how to manage themselves on the road.”

The project will be completed by March 2015, with work starting before the end of the year following a consultation.

Metro, along with Bradford and Leeds Councils, with bid supporters Sustrans and CTC and British Cycling, are members of the Get Yorkshire Cycling regional initiative.

This aims to ensure that there is the widest possible cycling legacy as a result of hosting the 2014 Tour de France Grand Depart.

Statistics show that people in Bradford are less than satisfied with general and local area cycling provision. Route information and secure bike parking were the major annoyances.

The Department of Transport has said that £77 million will be divided between Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford and Norwich, while the New Forest, Peak District, South Downs and Dartmoor will each share a slice of £17 million funding for national parks.

The DfT said that the commitment to improved cycling facilities was intended to put Britain on a level-footing with countries known for higher levels of cycling like Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Following our success in the Olympics, the Paralympics and the Tour de France, British cycling is riding high – now we want to see cycling soar.”

The DfT is also currently working with highway authorities to trial a raft of measures to improve roads for cyclists.

These include mini-signals at cyclists’ eye height to give more targeted information to cyclists and the possibility of a head start at junctions along with filter signals for cyclists as an alternative way of providing a head start at traffic lights.

The DfT have also started a feasibility study to look into creating a new national cycleway broadly following the route of the HS2 rail line from London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, and the creation of a new national School Awards Scheme to recognise schools that have demonstrated excellence in supporting cycling and walking.