The National Cycle Network (often known as the NCN) is a series of safe, traffic-free paths and quiet on-road cycling and walking routes that connect to every major town and city.
The Network passes within a mile of half of all UK homes and now stretches over 14,000 miles across the length and breadth of the UK. Almost 5 million people use the National Cycle Network, and despite its name, the Network isn't just for cyclists, it’s also popular with walkers, joggers, wheelchair users and horse riders too.
Did you know?
- Half of all trips made on the National Cycle Network are by walkers
- Over 27 million trips on the Network are made by children travelling to and from school
- 20% of cyclists using the Network are new to cycling or starting to cycle again
- Over 85% of people who use the National Cycle Network feel fitter as a result
- Over 50% of people using the Network felt it helped them to save money
More than just a connection
But we also want to make sure that your journey on the National Cycle Network is memorable, and more than just a way of getting from A to B. That’s why we commission local artists to develop artwork on the routes. And that’s why we are working hard to conserve wildlife and habitats, ensuring that the National Cycle Network is a place where biodiversity thrives.
- How it all began
- How the Network continues to develop
- The impact of the Network
- Ownership of the National Cycle Network
- Maintaining the National Cycle Network
- Funding maintenance of the Network
When Sustrans was set up in Bristol in 1977, we had a vision to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists. By the early 90’s we had built cycle paths all over the country but they weren’t linked together. So, in 1995, we campaigned and won the first ever grant from the Millennium Commission for £42.5 million to create our vision of a UK-wide network of high-quality, convenient routes.
To deliver our vision of more space for walking and cycling, Sustrans has worked with a range of partners including local authorities, Network Rail, Canals and Rivers Trust, Highways Agency, Forestry Commission and others to co-ordinate the Network that exists today.
Sustrans works to develop the National Cycle Network, working with partners to identify future routes and, in some cases, providing the funding to build extensions.
We’d like to see more local networks growing out from the Network routes into towns and cities, helping people get to the places they need to reach. One of the original goals of the Network was to inspire governments and local authorities to build networks of local routes by demonstrating how well used cycling routes can become, if they are built to a high quality.
We’d also like to see improvements made to existing routes including much-needed maintenance. Some of our routes like the Bristol and Bath Path attract millions of trips every year so repairs to surfaces and signage are vital.
The economic, environmental and health benefits of more people walking and cycling are undeniable. In fact research from Sustrans shows that there are tangible cost benefits both to the NHS and society by increasing levels of physical activity – last year we reported the benefits of the Network exceeded £1 billion.
The Network is mainly owned by local authorities and other landowners like The National Trust, Network Rail, the Highways Agency, the Forestry Commission and Canal and River Trust. Sustrans is responsible for 560km of the National Cycle Network where the charity has purchased or been gifted the land.
Responsibility for maintenance of the routes lies mainly with Local Authorities and the Highways Agency and other landowners like The National Trust, Network Rail and Canal and River Trust. Sustrans owns a small proportion of the National Cycle Network, and for 80% of this land we are responsible for its upkeep. Sustrans is also contracted to maintain land on some Local Authorities behalf.
Sustrans recruits and manages a large network of volunteers who work incredibly hard at keeping all the routes looking their best and ensuring signage is consistent.
We’re carrying out a full review of the condition of the National Cycle Network across the UK. We’ll then use this information to work with partners to call on governments for dedicated and ongoing funding for the development and maintenance of existing walking and cycling routes, including the National Cycle Network. We agree that some parts of the Network could and should be better maintained, and we urge all local authorities to prioritise this to ensure more people are able to walk and cycle.
Annually the National Cycle Network costs Sustrans around £1 million a year to maintain and repair the parts of the Network it owns. In addition, the charity funds thousands of volunteers who give up their time to help keep the Network up to a good standard by clearing vegetation, glass and other hazards etc. The vast majority of this money comes from donations from our supporters.
Donations are the only income we, as a charity, can rely on each year. All our other funding is to deliver specific initiatives on behalf of government, local authorities and others that commission our practical work across the UK.