The walking and cycling vision for Northumberland - and the challenges it faces

The coronavirus crisis ‘only provides stronger justification’ for Northumberland’s new walking and cycling vision, a council boss has said.
Picture c/o PixabayPicture c/o Pixabay
Picture c/o Pixabay

At its cabinet meeting next week, Northumberland County Council is set to endorse a refreshed strategy behind its ambition to encourage more people of all ages and circumstances to walk and cycle more often.

The document – which was drawn up by the Northumberland Cycling and Walking Board, featuring the local authority plus NHS, tourism and outdoors partners – has some extremely ambitious goals.

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The aspirations for 2025 include that the majority of journeys in Northumberland under a mile will be walked and under five miles will be cycled, that the county will have the highest levels of active travel to school and the lowest school-run congestion in the UK, and that the county will be the most walked and cycled tourist destination in the country.

Introducing the Our Way strategy at the Wednesday, June 3, meeting of the council’s communities and place committee, Coun Cath Homer, the cabinet member for leisure, said: “I have always been of the opinion that if any county lends itself to walking and cycling, it’s our county.”

Under the vision – ‘We want more people to walk and cycle more often’, the strategy has four main goals, with the first being to enhance the pedestrian and cycling environment in all of Northumberland’s main towns.

Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIP) are in the process of being drawn up for each of these towns to ‘enable a long-term approach to the development of high-quality walking and cycling networks and ensure investment is targeted to support a change in how we travel’.

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The second goal relates to supporting walking and cycling as means of travel to work, school and around communities, while the third aims to enhance the county’s network of recreation and long-distance routes.

The fourth and final goal is around inspiration and support for walking and cycling, building on the legacy of events such as last year’s Tour of Britain.

More than £1.5million is earmarked for walking and cycling infrastructure in this year’s Local Transport Plan, but the council is also in discussions with the Department for Transport over ‘ambitious funding’ support for the LCWIP programme, which would ‘position the county as a national exemplar’.

Unlike many other council projects and services, the Covid-19 pandemic has, if anything, provided more impetus for this strategy, given that more people will likely have taken up walking and cycling recently given the exercise restrictions under lockdown, while they will also be ‘encouraged as forms of travel post-lockdown to reduce the pressure on public transport’.

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Members of the committee were overall very supportive of the vision, although a number of questions and comments from councillors suggested that they felt communication, education and getting the right information out would need to be a key element of the plans going forward.

Coun Liz Dunn, who represents the Lynemouth ward, asked about connections in and between villages given the perceived focus on main towns.

Strategic transport manager Stuart McNaughton explained that the initial focus is main towns ‘because that’s where the funding is, but we very quickly want to move onto other areas’.

“It’s quite a complex picture that will evolve over time,” Coun Homer added. “The will is to go as far as we can as quickly and effectively as possible.”

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Coun Rupert Gibson, the ward member for the rural Humshaugh division, said that the county’s recreational routes were ‘first-rate’, but he believed that getting more people to walk and cycle to work and school in areas like his would be very difficult.