Sunday, 9 February 2014

Route to the coast from Halesworth

Some extensive work has been done by the Beccles and Bungay Cycle Strategy Group on setting out the options for cycle routes to the coast from Beccles and Halesworth.

Recent improvements to the National Cycle Network in Halesworth include the provision of an attractive traffic-free path from the town centre to the south of the town. The new Millennium Green Cycle Path joins a quiet lane adjacent to the Mells level crossing where the National Cycle Network Route 1 heads west towards Walpole and continues on towards Framlingham.

The northern section of the Suffolk Coastal Cycle Route is currently unsigned but is designated as Regional Route 41 of the National Cycle Network. It passes from Dunwich to Bramfield via Wenhaston. It crosses the A12 at Hazels Lane near to Hinton.

BBBS route leaflet
The desire is to create a National Cycle Network link from Halesworth to the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB making the connection between Halesworth railway station and Southwold, Walberswick and Dunwich and thus improve the sustainable transport opportunities for people accessing the AONB. This link can take advantage of the new path across Halesworth Millennium Green and connect with the end of Regional Route 31 in Southwold.

The route out of Halesworth through Wenhaston is already up to National Cycle Network standards. Similarly the track across the Bailey Bridge between Southwold and Walberswick is an existing cycle route of good quality.

The route between these two sections is where some hard choices have to be made.

One option (green) is to follow the Regional Route 41 as far as Wenhaston, then take Wenhaston Lane towards Blythburgh and continue towards Walberswick and Southwold on the byway that is the remains of the defunct Southwold Railway line to meet Regional Route 31 at the Bailey Bridge.

The other option (purple) is to follow Regional Route 41 along the Mells ‘Back Road’, Heath Road to Bramfield Road, Back Road and Back Lane to The Street, Wenhaston and then to Hazels Lane, crossing the A12 and continuing to the Dunwich Road B1125. From there is a byway to Westwood Lodge and a quiet lane to Walberswick.
All of this latter route is existing highway and currently low in traffic density, though a watch should be kept for any housing development proposals. A recent retrospective planning application for a caravan park and a application for a Travellers’ campsite on Hazels Lane has raised objections because of traffic.

While shorter and offering more amenities along the route, the green option would require considerable surfacing and ground works with a huge environmental impact in a very sensitive area of the Blyth Estuary. Though it can be cycled already, in winter is it not much more than a muddy track. A crossing in Blythburgh would be safer than the other option as it would be within in the village 30 mph zone, though this stretch is still the site of frequent accidents.

While a crossing of the A12 within Blythburgh has many advantages, it is the impact of creating an all-weather cycle surface in the estuarine environment that tips the scales towards taking the route to the south and that is the preference the Halesworth Bicycle Team will put forward in a Supplemental Planning Document to Waveney District Council.

Following Regional Route 41 will require improvements in two locations needing careful consideration:

A. A12 crossing Hazels Lane TM 43640 73908

The A12 at this point has the national speed limit (60mph) and the visibility to the south is poor due to a curve and slope on the road. This crossing was the site of multiple fatality night-time road accident in 2006 caused by impairment and dangerous driving when a southbound car in the wrong lane hit a northbound car head-on killing five people.

Improved visibility can be achieved for the west-east crossing by creating a cycle crossing point a few metres to the south of the junction so that cyclists can see vehicles coming around the corner and up the slope towards the junction. Unfortunately this would not help the east-west crossing movement. A cycle crossing facility north of the junction would give good visibility in both directions but to achieve a good level of visibility it would need to be beyond the splay of land owned by the Highway Authority. A crossing within the land owned by the highway authority would provide a limited benefit but the addition of a cycle-activated sign to warn motorists of the presence of cyclists crossing the road would help.

B. The byway from “Five Ways” to Westwood Lodge

This byway is already well used by cyclists and is marked as the Southwold to Dunwich cycle route on the Walberswick National Nature Reserve leaflet. It is popular in Summer.

There are, however, some deeply rutted sections and surface improvements need to be undertaken to bring the route up to acceptable standards. The total length of byway that needs improvements amounts to a few hundred metres. In some locations the level of the byway has been eroded well below that of the surrounding land and to rectify this will require a significant quantity of imported material to be brought in. The imported material needs to be appropriate and respect the environmental interest at this site. It may be beneficial to impose a TRO on the byway to prevent public use of the track in motor vehicles. This should not impact on the local access.