Opportunity to improve Norwich’s north-western cycle network

What’s the connection between 1,700 new homes, the £4.6m Nest community hub, £1.6m of Community Infrastructure Levy spending and Norwich International Airport? Bob Hindmarsh explains

The area alongside the Northern Distributor Road (NDR) to the west of the A140 is about to be transformed by massive new suburban housing estates and other developments. There are also partial plans for new cycling infrastructure which, as usual, are being planned in small, discontinuous sections.

We’ve been alerted by campaign member Bob Hindmarsh about one missing section. A solar farm is proposed in the area of land between the NDR, Drayton Lane, Reepham Road and Holly Lane. It would seem logical for a cycle track along Reepham Road to be included in the planning permission for the solar farm.

Location of the proposed cycle track along Reepham Road

Bob takes up the story below.

The background

Anyone who has tried to use Norwich’s cycle network knows that it’s lacking. Across the city we have small patches of good provision with miles-wide gaps in between. The further out of the city you go, the worse it gets. The outermost circular cycle route (the Purple Pedalway) is barely 3 miles from the city centre and effectively marks the end of the network, as the other routes beyond become purely radial routes with few connections between them.

The cycle path alongside the A1270 Northern Distributor Road could have formed an outer connecting circular route to the north, but that too has just a few stretches of good quality path interspersed with sections of waterlogged gravel and dirt tracks – not to mention the unpleasant at-grade crossings and occasional miles-long detours along the route.

This obviously holds back local cycling. Lack of safe cycling routes and the perceived risk on the roads discourages people from cycling even short trips, and we know these stretches of good provision won’t add up to much until they’re connected together into an effective network. Recent UK cycle infrastructure design guidance LTN 1/20 states:

“Cycle infrastructure must join together, or join other facilities together by taking a holistic, connected network approach which recognises the importance of nodes, links and areas that are good for cycling. Routes should be planned holistically as part of a network. Isolated stretches of provision, even if it is good, are of little value.”

Eventually this will happen and everything will get connected up, but given the current state of active travel funding and the pace of local projects I wouldn’t hold my breath. Which is a little worrying because we’re in a climate emergency, and in order to meet the UK’s targets and stay within our carbon budgets we need to reduce the number of miles travelled by car. And soon.

Reepham Road, a dangerous 60mph road in need of protected cycle infrastructure – Image Google Street View

A recent paper in Nature states: “We conclude that, as well as implementation of emission-reducing changes in vehicle design, a rapid and large-scale reduction in car use is necessary to meet stringent carbon budgets and avoid high energy demand.”

We don’t have time to sit around and wait, so we need to speed the process up where we can. One way to do this is to keep an eye on planned developments around the known gaps in the network and nudging any new developments into building (or at least not obstructing) the links we badly need. And I have found an example – a proposed solar farm on the edge of the city, between Hellesdon, Horsford and Drayton.

The opportunity

Map of the area with the proposed solar farm, villages and major new housing developments

The site is already bordered by several bits of disconnected cycling infrastructure, both existing and planned:

  • The Yellow Pedalway extension: a fully funded (£1.6m from developers) project to provide an off-road walking/cycling route from the A140/NDR bridge down to the airport and the edge of the city.
  • New paths along Reepham Road from the Drayton Lane roundabout towards Drayton (part of the planning conditions of the 200+ houses in the Hopkins Homes Church Farm development in Drayton).
  • Holly Lane goes up one edge of the site and is already a dead-end road for cycling/walking and farm access only. Hall Lane opposite is already traffic-calmed and leads to Drayton.
  • The Brown Pedalway extension will, at some point, “review cycling conditions along Reepham Road”. This is a long-term plan so unlikely to happen soon.

The solar farm is also located between the city and its suburbs – Horsford to the north, Drayton, Taverham and Thorpe Marriott to the west, with Hellesdon and the rest of Norwich to the south-east. It borders The Nest, the £4.6m community hub complete with cafe and adventure playground.

Further to the east sits the Norwich Airport strategic employment area (specified in the soon-to-be-adopted Greater Norwich Local Plan) and the associated Park & Ride. To the west, approval has just been granted to build 1,500 new homes at the Scott Properties Breck Farm development near Thorpe Marriott.

Strategic Housing Growth areas (orange) and Key Strategic Employment sites (purple) from the Greater Norwich Local Plan

This really is a key location – in the middle of so many people, projects, and plans. All that is needed is a 680m cycle path along one side of the site. This would connect up well over ten thousand people with £ms of amenities and infrastructure, and it could be done within the next couple of years. Sadly this does not appear to have featured in the plans submitted, and does not seem to have been a consideration during the planning process so far.

If this project goes ahead without providing this vital link, it will move from an opportunity to an obstacle – locking up the land and blocking future provision. If cycling conditions in the north-west area of Norwich do not improve, the consequences are obvious – thousands of new car journeys daily piling into Hellesdon and the city, or rapidly filling up the NDR (with or without the proposed Western Link road).

With the city already choked with traffic and an urgent need to reduce transport emissions, local planners should heed the First Rule of Holes: “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

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