I had a useful and informative meeting today with Russell Wilson and Sharon Bland from Norfolk Trails. Russell and Sharon are delivering the “Brecks Forest Way” part of the HLF-funded Breaking New Ground project. They had agreed to meet with me to talk about the “Brecks Forest Way” and other cycling-related projects in the county.
First, the bad news: despite the bid document stating that the project would “create a multi-use route, with short sections and circular paths, connecting Thetford to Brandon along the Little Ouse valley”, the agreed plans are now only to provide a river-side cycling route between Santon Downham and Brandon. This is a great shame, as that’s the one part of the route where there are already suitable cycling alternatives — either on the quiet C622 or off-road along Santon Street. The section where there is the greatest need, at the Thetford end, is now not to be upgraded or improved for cyclists.
Russell and Sharon seemed unaware of the intentions expressed in the bid document, so I’m not sure if the plans have been changed somewhere, or the impression from the original document was in error. The reason they gave for only concentrating on the section between Santon Downham and Brandon is that this is already a Bridleway, whereas the rest of the route is only a Public Footpath. While they would be keen to see it upgraded in the future, there were no resources to do so within the Brecks Forest Way project. This is all very disappointing, especially given the importance given to establishing a cycling link from Thetford to High Lodge in the Thetford Area Action Plan. Thetford is now missing out on any benefits from either of the cycling projects in Breaking New Ground.
On a more positive note, I learn about various other plans for cycling improvements. Russell and Sharon seemed keen to improve cycling facilities in general and to sign and promote new routes. The main problem holding them back at the moment was a lack of resources. But various bits of funding may become available thanks to new housing developments in the county.
Within the Brecks Forest Way project, there are plans to extend the route west from Brandon to Lakenheath, making use of existing Rights of Way, with some missing links being upgraded from Footpaths to Bridleways.
On the other side of Norwich, there are plans to extend the Marriott’s Way alongside the Bure Valley line to Wroxham. From there the planned Three Rivers Way will provide a link to Horning and Lundham on the Broads. There are also plans for a link back to Norwich from Wroxham, which will then form an excellent 50-mile loop with the Marriott’s way.
The Norfolk Trails teams are investigating the possibility of a new multi-user route running from Kings Lynn to Thetford. Presumably this will follow the existing Fen Rivers Way for a while, before branching off to Thetford.
I also learnt that Norfolk County Council have recently appointed a “Walking and Cycling Champion”, which apparently is a pre-requisite for accessing certain funding streams. I didn’t get a chance to ask who this was at the meeting, but I believe it is Cllr Hilary Cox.