NCN Route 11 and the Road to Unsustainability

This article was published in 2006, in Newsletter 65.

In 1995 we had a student from Freiburg who stayed in our home whilst she was a German Assistant at Long Road Sixth Form College, and she regularly cycled from Stapleford to the college. One day she was over an hour late arriving home as she had tried to navigate the direct route via farm tracks instead of using the roads which form the other two sides of a triangle. I explained that our feudal laws gave no rights to cycle farm tracks, and she explained that in her part of Germany farmers would have to have exceptional reasons to prevent such use. Unfortunately due to land ownership boundaries and the railway there are no suitable connecting farm tracks across this area, hence her late arrival.

This existing path in Shelford will eventually be upgraded for part of the 10000th mile of the National Cycle Network
Image as described adjacent

Realising the great advantages of such a short route, I wrote to the County Council suggesting that a cycle route from Shelford to Addenbrooke’s Hospital would benefit many, including pupils at Long Road Sixth Form College. I received a reply that the estimated cost of £250 000 ruled out such a route.

Things have changed. In 1998 Sustrans were commissioned to look at suitable longer distance cycle routes within the County, and this two-kilometre section formed part of one proposed route. Agreement was made with one of the major landowners and the plan was to have the 10 000th mile of the National Cycle Network ‘opened’ as part of the celebration of ten years of the NCN on this stretch. In fact only a ‘token’ opening of a few metres was able to take place last September.

Now, around a year from when work should have started, agreement still has not been reached with one party who has a legal interest in one parcel of land, and although some limited tree and hedge clearance has taken place, start on the main works clearly cannot start without signed agreement of all parties.

Of course this isn’t the only section of this route that has failed. At another place the refusal of a government agency (the one now called English Heritage) to allow NCN 11 to cross land it owns has probably scotched the best route for all time!

As a campaigner for sustainable transport, I find it terribly discouraging that it appears that it will be possible to plan, obtain land, and build the Addenbrooke’s Access Road, a complicated single carriageway road including two major road junctions, the demolition of several houses, and the crossing of a major rail line, in less time than we have failed to build a two-kilometre cycle path along existing field boundaries and across a minor stream, even though both routes are in the same area.

Whilst it is still possible to build major infrastructure for motor vehicles in less time than it takes to create simple cycleways and footpaths that improve people’s modal choice it seems unlikely that we can solve Cambridge’s transport problems. Unfortunately it is lack of political will – demonstrated by a reluctance to use compulsory purchase powers, money and human resources – that results in such failures.

Jim Chisholm