UK’s Governments pledge support to National Cycle Network overhaul

The National Cycle Network is set to undergo a major review of its walking and cycling routes to ensure they meet the highest design standards, Sustrans has announced

The charity and custodian of the NCN says the review will also help to identify new routes and missing links, and propose a long-term strategy for governance, funding, maintenance, promotion and mapping.

Established in 1995 following the first ever Millenium Commission grant to Sustrans, the NCN is a significant part of the UK’s active travel infrastructure and strategy, encouraging people to walk and cycle in a safe environment and providing important commuting access.

Every year, an estimated five million people use the Network, which totals over 16,000 miles of traffic-free paths and on road routes linking up villages, towns and cities from Cornwall to the Shetland Isles.

These trips save the economy more than £550 million by reducing levels of obesity. Holidays and days out spent on the Network generate £650 million and support 15,000 jobs.

As part of the review, Sustrans calls on governments and local authorities for dedicated and consistent investment in the development and maintenance of walking and cycling routes, including the NCN.

Xavier Brice, Sustrans’ CEO said: “Much of the existing National Cycle Network was designed to standards that have since been changed and improved. With this review, we want to further build on the success of the NCN and achieve a network of safe, fully accessible and high quality routes and paths. We hope this will make walking and cycling easier for everyone, regardless of their age and abilities, and inspire a new generation to get on their bikes.

“Walking and cycling can hugely benefit public health and wellbeing, boost local economies and create greener local environments. The NCN plays a large role in achieving this, as it encourages active commuting and a healthy lifestyle, and contributes to economic growth.

This is a reminder that governments at all levels need to prioritise dedicated and consistent investment for existing walking and cycling routes that will serve communities across the UK and generations for years to come.”

Sustrans is working with a number of partners to carry out the review, which is due to be published in September.

The Department for Transport, Transport Scotland, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Government have confirmed their support with a financial contribution towards the cost of the review.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “We want cycling to become a natural choice of transport for people of all ages and backgrounds.

“We are determined to make cycling and walking safer and easier across the country, and that’s why we have provided £83,900 towards the cost of this important review of the National Cycle Network which should lead to future upgrades for the families, commuters and tourists who use it every year.”

Karen Furey, Cycling Policy Manager for Transport for Scotland said: “The National Cycle Network is an important and widely recognised public asset with around 2,500 miles in Scotland alone, which incorporates beautiful scenic routes which residents and visitors can enjoy.

“We welcome this review by Sustrans, which will help ensure the network remains safe and accessible, and continues to encourage people to make the switch to active travel.”

Richard Rutter, Policy, Research & Impact Unit Manager for the Canal and River Trust said: “The Canal & River Trust currently hosts 500 miles of the National Cycle Network on our towpaths.

We are delighted to support the Review to understand how our 200 year old towpaths, which already attract over 400 million visits each year and which are on the doorstep of eight million people, can attract even more people and help to deliver even greater wellbeing benefits in our fast paced world.” 

Routes on the NCN will be reviewed according to the following criteria: surface quality; traffic related safety; way finding and signage; flow; social safety; and place.

Sustrans owns 348 miles of the Network, and is responsible for 80% of this land upkeep, much of which is delivered via a network of volunteers.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Bewley