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North West Greenway Network Project: good news for EuroVelo 1

30.07.2018
Cyclists from Foyle Cycling Club who dropped in to see the plans

Two EuroVelo routes are crossing Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland: EuroVelo 1 – Atlantic Coast Route and EuroVelo 2 – Capitals Route. But leisure cycling and cycle tourism are relatively new pastimes in those regions. Cycling needs to be promoted in order to encourage people to change their habits and switch to the bicycle for short journeys and longer leisure trips – reducing at the same time the amount of carbon dioxide produced.

In particular, the North West Region, comprised of the Derry City & Strabane District council area, north and east Donegal, is home to a beautiful natural scenery and fascinating cultural heritage. But a large number of cars go across the region every day because of cross-border movements. With the aim of putting cycling and walking in the foreground and of enjoying more often the island’s high quality landscape, the region’s Councils commissioned Sustrans (the UK-based cycling and walking charity, which is also EuroVelo’s UK Coordinator) to develop the North West Greenway Plan in 2015. This Plan sets out a high-level strategic vision to develop upwards of 250km of cross-border cycleways and greenways (i.e. dedicated cycling and walking routes, either off road (traffic free) or on road within part of the verge or footway, but segregated from vehicular traffic).

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In 2016, the North West Greenway Network Project was awarded €14.8 million funding by the European Union through their INTERREG VA funding programme to construct 46.5km of cross-border greenways. Match-funding has been provided by the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in Ireland. Three routes are to be completed by 2022. These routes link Derry to Buncrana via Bridgend; Muff to Derry via Culmore; and Lifford to Strabane. Once completed, this will result in a greenway network of approximately 126.5km in the North West, of which 76.5km will be classified as high quality greenway. These routes will complement existing cycleways in the North West, among which EuroVelo 1 – Atlantic Coast Route.

Consultation events were held in May and June for routes 1 and 2 of the North West Greenway Network, while the public consultation for route 3 is planned for late summer. Through these events, the councils are seeking the public’s views on a series of route options being appraised for the proposed greenways. Participants are local residents, school children, walking groups, cycling clubs, political representatives… It turns out to be a good practice for involving the local community in decision-making. It also helps to identify the actual barriers (social, physical or mental) met by people when they cycle in the region, and to tackle these challenges when planning the construction of the greenways.

The public consultations have been very successful. The first consultation event, for route 2 (Muff-Derry), gathered almost 300 people on 23-24 May in Hollybush primary school, situated just next to the border. The consultation days for route 1 (Buncrana-Derry) were held 26-27 June and again, almost 300 came out to support the project. Hosting one of the events in a school attracted many children and their parents, hopefully planting the cycling seed in the youngsters. This goes in the direction encouraged by the Active Travel Officer appointed by project partner Sustrans: to engage with schools, colleges and workplaces to offer advice and guidance and to effect travel change.

One man and his dog in Hollybush Culmore_ 20180626_142038

Ronan Gallagher, Communications Manager for the North West Greenway Network, said about route 1 (Derry-Buncrana) that ‘this section of the project is by far the largest stretch of greenway to be developed, and will link in to the existing EuroVelo 1 – Atlantic Coast Route that crosses from Newtowncunningham to Manorcunningham.’ Route 2, on the other hand, comes in along the River Foyle and will join into the Foyle Valley Greenway which is part of EuroVelo 1. The North West Greenway Network Project is thus important for EuroVelo in Ireland because it will add several high-quality cycle routes to the network.

In conclusion, the North West Greenway Network Project is very promising regarding cycle tourism in Ireland. The project’s vision summarizes it all: “To develop a cross border network of greenways that link people with places locally, regionally and nationally- bringing social, economic & environmental wellbeing to all.”

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