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Overhaul National Cycle Network to benefit everyone

Walkers, cyclists and scooters using the Comber Greenway

People walking, cycling and scooting on the popular Comber Greenway in east Belfast

Woman who cycles to work daily

Nicola McCausland from Belfast commutes to work by bike using the National Cycle Network

12 November 2018

Busy mum Nicola McCausland cycles to work in the Titanic Quarter from east Belfast using the Comber Greenway (National Route 99), the Connswater Greenway, and National Route 93 along the Airport Road.

“Cycling to and from work means I don’t have to find time to fit in exercise in the evenings,” she said. “It takes me 30 minutes to get to work, which is the same amount of time I would spend sitting in rush hour traffic every day and I arrive at work stress-free.”

Nicola cycles on some of the best-used sections of the National Cycle Network but did you know there are more than 1,000 miles of the Network across Northern Ireland?

These signed paths and routes for walking, cycling and exploring outdoors, familiar to many by a small blue and red sign, have been created and maintained for more than 20 years.

Following an independent audit of the entire network Sustrans, the walking and cycling charity, is calling for government to invest and improve in one of the UK’s greatest amenities.

In its “Paths for Everyone” report, the charity unveils the current state of the Network and a long-term plan to make it traffic-free and tackle physical problems. These include poor surfaces and barriers that prevent access for users, particularly those with adapted bikes or prams.

Only 54% of the Network is currently suitable for a 12-year-old to use safely, a road safety benchmark set by the UK Government.

Action Plan for Northern Ireland

Sustrans has identified eight schemes in an Action Plan for Northern Ireland which came out of the review. 

Top of the list for Northern Ireland is to improve existing routes and make more of the Network traffic-free so more people like Nicola can travel actively for work or leisure.

The review coincides with the Department for Infrastructure’s (DfI) Strategic Plan for Greenways which has earmarked £150 million to create new traffic-free routes connecting communities across Northern Ireland. This will provide a vital springboard to reinvigorating and expanding the traffic-free Network. 

The Report also perfectly times with the delivery of the government’s Greenways Strategy. We look forward to working with partners to expand and improve the traffic-free network of paths for all.

- Gordon Clarke, Sustrans

In addition to the DfI strategy, local councils are drawing up Community Development plans which will provide an opportunity to further explore, plan and zone the development of the Network.

There is a challenge ahead as just 14% of the Network in Northern Ireland is classified as traffic-free but this accounts for the largest proportion of usage as they connect to major urban centres such as Nicola’s journey to work from east Belfast. Other examples are the Lagan Towpath, National Route 9 from Lisburn to Belfast connects two cities and their suburbs; and the Waterside Greenway, National Route 93 in Derry~Londonderry is an increasingly popular traffic-free route serving the city and its suburbs.

The remaining 86% of the National Cycle Network in Northern Ireland is on-road. This includes Belfast to Ballyshannon with its coast-to-coast span, Ballyshannon to Ballycastle taking in the beautiful Sperrin Mountains and the North Coast of Northern Ireland, and the Kingfisher Trail that takes you on a journey through the Fermanagh Lakelands and mountains.

Greenway Strategy works with National Cycle Network

Gordon Clarke, Sustrans Northern Ireland Director said:

“The time is right to address shortfalls in the condition of the National Cycle Network to truly make it easier for people to walk and cycle. The Report also perfectly times with the delivery of the government’s Greenways Strategy. We look forward to working with partners to expand and improve the traffic-free network of paths for all.”

Chris Boardman MBE, Greater Manchester Commissioner who sits on the National Cycle Network advisory panel says:

“The little blue and red sign indicating a segment of the National Cycle Network is a long-recognised and trusted mark, used by cyclists and walkers alike, to navigate their way around the UK without cars. That alone should tell us just how valuable an asset it is.

“In times of high obesity and poor air quality, travelling actively has never been more important and the National Cycle Network is a key tool in helping address these problems.”

Launching the report at the Houses of Parliament on Monday, Xavier Brice, CEO for Sustrans, will say:

“The National Cycle Network is a well-loved, well-used asset that’s enjoyed by millions of people across the UK every day.

“We want to build on its success and make the Network safer and more accessible for everyone, not just for people who currently use it. Our “Paths for Everyone” report lays out an ambitious vision to make the Network traffic free and safe for a 12-year-old to use on their own.

“However, historic problems such as poor surfaces, incomplete signage or barriers mean that for people with mobility issues or those of us who are less physically active, there may as well be a ‘no entry’ sign on their local path.”

An online survey of 5,965 UK residents[1] shows overwhelming support for the Network, with 81% of the respondents saying they want paths built away from cars where everyone feels safe to get around.

  • Recommendations for UK-wide overhaul of the 16,575-mile National Cycle Network – more than 1,000 miles in Northern Ireland – to open up walking and cycling to more people, including children, wheelchair users and those who face mobility challenges
  • £7.6 billion in economic and local benefits can be added every year as a result of reduced road congestion and health benefits from increased walking and cycling

Find out more about ‘Paths for Everyone’ and the Action Plan for Northern Ireland 

For more information/interviews/case studies contact Anne Madden, Sustrans Policy & Communications Manager in Northern Ireland on 028 90434569/ 0782655 6416 


[1] Online public survey conducted by Sustrans in June 2018