Welsh Assembly move to adopt National Cycle Network

By Richard Peace | Saturday, July 19, 2008 8.00am

The  Welsh Assembly has taken its first major step towards enabling the devolved government there to ‘adopt’ the National Cycle Network in Wales.

What appears on the face of it a tale of minor bureaucracy could prove to be the start of a hugely radical move to a North European model of cycle network provision across the UK. The current National Cycle Network is the brainchild of cycling and walking charity Sustrans and no national governments throughout the UK have any legal responsibility for funding or maintaining the signed cycle network, a third of it off-road. If Sustrans’ money dried up the NCN itself could wither away.

To remedy this weakness a cross-party committee has voted to attempt to drive through a law that would make the NCN in Wales the legal responsibility of the Welsh Assembly government. So, should the law go ahead, Cardiff would be responsible for maintaining the traffic free sections of the country’s cycle network in the same way that it maintains the road system.

The current system throughout Wales, and indeed the UK, is that there is something of a postcode lottery in the provision of high quality cycle paths and lanes – it is very largely up to local governments how much they do (or don’t do, as the case may be).

One of the main originators of the move was Lee Waters, head of Sustrans Cymru. He was the driving force behind a petition presented to the assembly last autumn, signed by a wide range of groups including AgeConcern Cymru, BT Cymru, Royal Mail, Friends of the Earth Cymru, PlayWales and the National Union of Teachers – showing the massive latent support across all sections of society for a coherent, high quality and well-maintained network of off-road cyclepaths. 

Talking exclusively to BikeRadar Lee Waters was clearly under no illusions as to the significance of the move. He pointed out that the Assembly’s Enterprise committee could have picked on any one of a number of areas to support, as the procedure will mean extending the powers of the Welsh Assembly in this area – for which permission from Westminster is required as well as a vote in the Welsh Assembly itself.

“This is the first time a committee as powerful as this has taken forward an initiative to enable the Assembly itself to make new laws that will be unique to Wales. The committee has one go in the lifetime of this assembly at such a move, and that it has chosen cycling and walking from amongst many other causes is great news,” commented Waters.

“The ultimate prize is getting government to cater for cyclists and pedestrians on the same basis as motorists are currently catered for. Wales would be a leader within the UK should this happen.” he added.

Should all go to plan, Waters foresees the scheme passing into law in eighteen months to two years. 

The much-lauded cycle networks of countries like the Netherlands and Denmark are enshrined in national law and such nations top the league table for cycling levels within the developed world, with thirty per cent plus of all trips taken by bike. One of the factors underpinning these impressive figures is the high level of government investment in construction and maintenance of high quality cycle lanes and tracks. Wales it seems, is certainly aiming high.         

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