Sustrans’ new vision for the National Cycle Network


Sustrans, National EuroVelo Coordinator in the UK, ‘relaunched’ their National Cycle Network (NCN) at the end of 2018 with an ambitious Vision for the development of the network over the coming decades. The NCN, one of the original inspirations for EuroVelo, is over 23 years old now and so Sustrans first decided to get a better understanding of the current status of the network.  During a two-year-long audit, they reviewed the condition of 26,675 km and now have a complete overview of what needs to be improved and where.


Article based on Sustrans’ Special Newsletter about the NCN’s review

All the EuroVelo routes that pass though the UK are located on the NCN, so the planned improvements also benefit the European cycle route network too! The longest one is EuroVelo 1 – Atlantic Coast Route which passes through all four countries that make up the UK: Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England.  It includes Devon Coast to Coast route (National Route 27), the Celtic Trail along the Welsh coast and the Lochs and Glens route crossing Loch Lomond National Park and Cairngorms National Park in Scotland.  EuroVelo 12 – North Sea Cycle Route also has an extensive section in the UK, for most of its route following National Route 1 – a route exploring the UK’s east coast.

EuroVelo 2 – Capitals Route travels through the heart of Wales along the Lôn Las Cymru (National Route 8), taking in Snowdonia National Park and Brecon Beacons National Park, then visits the grand cities of Bristol and Bath and joins the scenic Kennet and Avon Cycle Route (National Route 4) and the Thames Valley Route on its way to London. Finally, EuroVelo 5 – Via Romea Francigena has its first little stretch in the UK, starting at the historic City of Canterbury and going on along pleasant Kentish Lanes to the coast at Dover.

In November 2018, after completing their analysis (you can access the full report here), Sustrans announced a new vision for the National Cycle Network: a UK-wide network of traffic-free walking and cycling paths, connecting cities, towns and countryside and loved by the communities they serve. This vision – “Paths for everyone” – has two priorities: to make the National Cycle Network safer and more accessible for everyone (including wheelchair users and horse riders, who use the Network as well). Currently, 12,225 km of the Network are of poor quality, as shown in the diagram below, mainly because significant amounts of the network are on roads. But Sustrans has concrete plans to improve those parts.


To deliver this vision, Sustrans will continue to work collaboratively with partners and stakeholders, according to carefully planned action plans. As custodian of the network, Sustrans will lead across five themes:


The objective is thus to bring every kilometre of the network to a new quality standard by 2040. This standard will ensure path widths and surfaces are built for everyone, including those who face mobility challenges. A set of signing and wayfinding guidelines will also be developed in 2019 to set out how the Network should be signed and to achieve a consistent user experience on the Network. Find out more about Sustrans’ new quality standard here!

By 2040, Sustrans foresees that 34% of the Network will be on quiet ways and 66% on traffic-free paths. This means finding alternative ways for the 67% of the network currently on road. To make that possible, Sustrans has developed seven action plans with input from key stakeholders including local authorities, landowners and volunteers. The action plans show the current condition of the Network and the issues that need to be addressed in each area in order to improve the Network. To demonstrate immediate change, 50 activation projects will be delivered across the UK by 2023! See the action plans in detail here.

It is very high-quality work by ECF’s UK member. It includes walking and cycling, and therefore has implications for health and public health, transport, and more in addition to the important benefits for sustainable tourism”,
said Dr Rzewnicki, ECF Senior Health Expert.

Of course, these ambitious plans will require significant long-term investment. But Sustrans’ report also shows that the benefits will far outweigh the cost. With about 4.4 million users, £88 million saved through reduced road congestion and £2.5 billion contributed to local economies through leisure and tourism in 2017, there is no doubt that the National Cycle Network has a lot of positive impact on the economy. It passes through a diverse range of communities, including hundreds of local organisations, schools, employers, local businesses and community groups, as such, it is vital to the success of national and local government strategies to increase walking and cycling.


The “Paths for everyone” vision indicates that, even after 23 years, the National Cycle Network still has its best years ahead of it.  ECF supports this ambitious vision and wishes Sustrans well in implementing it over the coming decades!