Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure has unveiled plans for a £150 million network of greenways covering 1,000 kilometres across the country.
The plans for the network, to be built in partnership with Sustrans and AECOM, have been set out in a Strategic Plan presented by Minister for Infrastructure Chris Hazzard.
It will comprise a 400-kilometre primary network with seven individual sections joining many main population centres and tourist attractions.
Those include an East-West route from Larne to Belcoo and North-South route from Derry to Newry which will both include parts of EuroVelo Route 1. There will also be a central section that will link to the Causeway Coast.
Costing an estimated £60 million, the aim is that three quarters of those routes will be completed within the next decade.
At the same time, work will be carried out on parts of the 20 routes comprising a secondary, more local network, budgeted at £90 million and a quarter of which is targeted to be delivered within 10 years.
The Department for Infrastructure said: “The Secondary Network of around 600 kilometres would extend the reach of the Greenway Network more widely.
“It includes some excellent routes and Councils may decide to develop these sections for more local reasons.
“It would not be the intention that all of the Primary Network must be completed before work begins on the Secondary Network. Some of these routes may be more easily designed.”
It continued: “Future plans may provide for a third level network of community paths that would provide doorstep opportunities to connect local communities to their local green space and neighbouring communities.”
On-the-ground delivery will be left to Northern Ireland’s 11 local councils, with the department adding: “Councils have a key role in the delivery of the Greenway Network.
“The purpose of this Strategic Plan is to provide a framework to assist Councils and other bodies to develop their own local schemes as part of a Greenway Network for the entire region.”
Mr Hazzard said: “As the first Minister for Infrastructure my focus is on sustainable transport. Greenways can make a huge difference to the daily lives of people by providing the opportunity to enjoy safe and easy access to fresh air and exercise, encouraging more people to commute to work by foot or bicycle, more children to walk or cycle to school, and provide a vital leisure resource for local people and visitors alike.
“This plan sets out my vision and framework for a more strategic and ambitious programme to develop greenway routes right across the whole of the north. I believe that greenways and similar community paths will ultimately create public spaces that will enhance our quality of life and leave an enduring legacy to be enjoyed by future generations.”
Gordon Clarke, Northern Ireland Director at the sustainable transport charity Sustrans, said: “Supporting rural regeneration through the development of traffic-free greenways was a priority policy area in our Manifesto ahead of last May’s Assembly elections.
“Across the UK we recognise the huge benefits these greenways have for local people. Greenways help to get people walking and cycling for leisure, commuting and school journeys. They also boost local businesses and have a wider tourism potential.
“The delivery of this vision, however, will require a commitment to substantial long-term capital investment from the Northern Ireland Executive.”
The Department for Infrastructure has made grants available to local councils, and received responses from all 11 with a total of 27 schemes, 20 of which were successful and will now receive £8,000 each for feasibility studies and conceptual designs to be undertaken.
The best of those will then receive a further £25,000 each to enable a full business case as well as detailed designs to be undertaken.
Jonathan Hobbs of the NI Greenways campaign commented: "It's encouraging to see so many councils proposing visionary greenway projects across the country with support from the Department for Infrastructure to realise their vision.
"This is an exciting first step towards creating a world-class greenway network, which will be a welcome investment in rural development and active travel, enhancing our tourism offering and creating long-term employment and entrepreneurship opportunities."
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.