Sustrans is calling for authorities across Northern Ireland to help reinvigorate the 23-year-old National Cycle Network.
The National Cycle Network is a network of 16,575 miles of signed routes spanning the UK, with over 1,000 miles in Northern Ireland. It is used by walkers, runners and wheelchair users, as well as people on bikes.
The charity launched a report this week which sets out plans to improve the Network at an event at Lagan Valley Island hosted by Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council who manage sections of the Comber Greenway (National Route 99) on a voluntary basis and the Lagan corridor (National Route 9).
For the past two years, Sustrans has been working across the UK with partners, stakeholders, staff and volunteers to conduct a comprehensive review of the entire Network in order to plan for its development into a top-quality facility for all. The ‘Paths for Everyone’ report is a new shared vision for a revitalised National Cycle Network, summed up as ‘A UK-wide network of traffic-free paths for everyone, connecting cities, towns and countryside and loved by the communities they serve’.
Sustrans has been engaging with the key owners of the Network in Northern Ireland - the eleven Councils and the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) as part of the development of a Physical Review and Action Plan.
Chairman of Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council’s Leisure & Community Development Committee, Alderman Paul Porter, commented: “This review of the National Cycle Network by Sustrans demonstrates the benefits of regularly using the signed routes and outlines an exciting vision for the future of our cycle network.
“ 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. ”
“We are fortunate to have the popular routes of the Lagan Towpath and the Comber Greenway within our Council area and we will continue to work in partnership with Sustrans, Lagan Valley Regional Park, Lagan Navigation Trust and the Department for Infrastructure to drive further developments and initiatives forward, which will fit in with our strategic vision for Greenways in our area. Working in partnership delivers tangible results and highlights how true community planning can benefit everyone.”
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. We know that investment in the Network reaps economic benefits to the local community and opens up tourist potential. The Report is also perfectly timed 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.”
The Network review coincides with the DfI’s 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.
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.
Dr Claire McLernon, from Sustrans said: “The regional context of these waymarked routes often goes unnoticed as they can simply be a convenient way to cycle from A to B or a pleasant place to take a dander. Take a Sunday stroll on the Lagan Towpath and you’re actually using part of Route 9 that stretches from Belfast the whole way to Newry. If you’re an avid cyclist ‘lapping Lough Neagh’, there’s every chance you’re following waymarked Route 94.”
Chris Boardman MBE who sits on the UK National Cycle Network advisory panel said: “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.”