© Clare Keogh/Fáilte Ireland/Westmeath County Council

What are the main NCN objectives?
Policy goal NCN plan objective
1. Reduce emissions from transportation by supporting a modal shift from private vehicles to cycling and walking. 1.1 Increase the number of cycle trips by improving the provision of safe and attractive cycle infrastructure.
1.2 Enhance local environments and biodiversity where possible (e.g., pollinator plans, green corridors).
2. Encourage active travel for daily activities and recreation. 2.1 Connect to strategic destinations outside of urban areas as appropriate (including centres of education, centres of employment, and leisure destinations).
2.2 Support the development of cycling and walking culture in Ireland.
3. Support connectivity and economic growth of regional areas. 3.1 Connect identified urban areas of 5,000+ population and those urban areas listed in the NTA’s urban cycle network strategy.
3.2 Connect to strategic destinations outside of urban areas as appropriate (including transport hubs and tourist destinations).
3.3 Integrate with existing and proposed cycle infrastructure (including greenways, safe routes to schools, the EuroVelo network, Interreg projects), as appropriate.
3.4 Integrate with existing and proposed cycle infrastructure in Northern Ireland, as appropriate.
4. Propose safe and accessible infrastructure that encourages modal shift and limits interactions with other vehicles. 4.1 Encourage use of off-road infrastructure, where appropriate.
4.2 Where efficient and effective, encourage routes that use ‘quiet’, low traffic volume roads.
4.3 Promote the design of cycle infrastructure that is fully accessible to all users, regardless of age or ability.
4.4 Promote the design of cycle infrastructure that meets safety requirements.
4.5 Promote the design of cycle infrastructure that provides a safe and secure environment for all users.
5. Ensure appropriate balance between value for money and quality of outcome. 5.1 Propose corridors to maximise the number of users.
5.2 Incorporate existing greenways, disused railways, canals, bypassed national roads, regional and local roads, long distance trails, as appropriate.
5.3 Maximise the use of publicly owned land, where possible.
5.4 Provide a framework to support the targeted investment in associated active travel projects.
5.5 Take lessons from best practice internationally in development of national cycle networks, particularly the UK and EU high-cycling countries.
5.6 Future-proof cycle route capacity, taking account of population growth and additional demand from modal shift.
Are further details available on the main steps that have been taken in the development of the draft plan?

Destinations included in the NCN (as per Step 1) are cities and towns with a population greater than 5,000 people (based on CSO 2016 census data), as well as strategic destinations such as rail transport hubs and ports.

When developing the proposed NCN corridors (as per Step 4) additional towns, settlements and local amenities (e.g., schools, centres of employment, recreational facilities) were also identified and included where possible.

Which towns are included in the NCN?

The NCN focuses on linking cities and towns of over 5,000 people. Over 50 such settlements are listed on the proposed NCN corridors map based on the 2016 Census including all settlements of over 10,000 people and the vast major of settlements over 5,000 people. In total, over 200 settlements are directly connected to the NCN.

Many towns not directly connected to the NCN will be able to access it via other cycle networks which integrate with it. For example, county and local cycle networks currently under development will enable connections to the NCN, as well as the EuroVelo routes and greenways.

Will the NCN connect urban centres?

Yes, it is proposed that the NCN will continue into urban centres. Where an urban cycle network already exists (or is planned), the NCN will aim to integrate with the highest quality of service or most appropriate route to the urban centre (e.g., connecting with a segregated cycle track rather than unprotected cycle lane). Where an urban cycle network does not exist (or is in the planning stage), the NCN integration points will be reassessed in line with planning stages. We are working closely with the NTA to ensure the NCN successfully integrates with existing and planned urban networks across the country.

What’s the difference between the NCN and the Greenway Strategy?

The NCN focuses on linking cities and towns of over 5,000 people with a safe, connected and inviting cycle network. It includes plans to create cycle routes for all trip types (utility, commuting, leisure, tourism) to destinations such as transport hubs, centres of education, centres of employment, leisure and tourist destinations. Where possible, it will optimise the potential for people to cycle as part of their daily activities, such as work or educational commuting. NCN corridors therefore start and end in a city or town of over 5,000 people along a corridor connecting with other towns along the way, as well as various destinations as listed above.

The Greenway Strategy defines a Greenway as “a recreational or pedestrian corridor for non-motorised journeys developed in an integrated manner which enhances both the environment and the quality of life of the surrounding area”. Greenways focus more on providing a visitor experience and a recreational amenity than getting from point A to point B. Greenways do connect some towns, villages and cities, but do not form a coherent network across the country.

Some greenways, or sections of greenway, may be suitable for inclusion into the NCN, but not all greenways are included in the NCN.

Which greenways are included in the NCN?

The NCN focuses on linking cities and towns of over 5,000 people. Where existing or proposed greenways provide such a connection, they are incorporated into the proposed NCN. Other existing or planned greenways which do not provide such a connection, although may start/finish close to the NCN, will be integrated with the NCN but will not form part of the NCN.

What are the EuroVelo routes?

EuroVelo is a network of 17 long distance cycle routes connecting and uniting the whole European continent. It currently comprises 17 routes totalling over 90,000km of cycling itineraries. There are currently two EuroVelo routes in Ireland: The EuroVelo 1 “Atlantic Coast” route runs west from Belfast to Derry and then along the west and south coasts finishing in Rosslare. It runs for approximately 2,300km in the Republic of Ireland, primarily as a signposted route along existing roads, as well as some greenways. It is listed as a “Developed route with EuroVelo signs”. The EuroVelo 2 “Capitals” route runs from Galway to Dublin. The route is fully developed between Maynooth and Athlone following the Royal Canal Greenway and the Old Rail Trail Greenway. West of Athlone the route is still under development.

Further information regarding EuroVelo routes can be found on the website https://en.eurovelo.com/

What’s next?

Following our analysis of public feedback, a report will be completed in August 2022 on the proposed National Cycle Network incorporating the feedback received. Detailed plans for the roll out of the NCN over the coming years will then be developed.

The NCN itself will be delivered via a series of rolling, five-year phases by local authorities. An initial assessment will identify corridors to be delivered in each implementation phase. The phase will be verified through consultation with local authorities to confirm deliverability of the various routes within the timeframes outlined. The first implementation phase will run from 2023-2025. Subsequent phases will run every five years – starting in 2026-2030.

What guidance does the NCN provide regarding environmental assessments?

Each future NCN project will adhere to all required environmental assessments at the design and implementation stages and will also consider the specific measures included in its Appropriate Assessment for each of the NCN corridors. No project that has an adverse effect on the integrity of a European site will be progressed.

Initiatives bought forward under each of the corridors will require scrutiny, so should undertake a project level Appropriate Assessment (AA) screening to determine whether the initiative/route would have an adverse effect on the integrity of European sites* either alone or in combination with other plans and projects.

No projects giving rise to significant cumulative, direct, indirect, or secondary impacts on Natura 2000 sites arising from their size or scale, land take, proximity, resource requirements, emissions (disposal to land, water or air), transportation requirements, duration of construction, operation, decommissioning or from any other effects shall be permitted on the basis of this plan (either individually or in combination with other plans or projects) and each project brought forward under the NCN Plan should be subject to a project level appropriate assessment screening.

Each project bought forward through the Plan will be required to produce a Construction Environment Management Plan (CEMP) to ensure compliance with all relevant legislation.

* Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are collectively known as ‘European sites’.

How will potential environmental concerns be incorporated into future route planning of the NCN?

The risks to the safeguarding and integrity of the qualifying interests and conservation objectives of the Natura 2000 network have been addressed by the inclusion of mitigation measures that will prioritise the avoidance of impacts in the first place and mitigate impacts where these cannot be avoided. In addition, all lower level plans and projects arising through the implementation of the NCN will themselves be subject to Appropriate Assessment (AA) when further details of design and location are known.

In determining the final route alignment, there will be a general principle of avoiding any new construction within 200m of any European sites* as a first preference. Where European sites are to be traversed existing roads and bridges should be used to carry the cycle route, where feasible, and there should be no new lighting introduced in currently unlit areas unless it can be demonstrated that there would be no adverse effect on site integrity. Where the cycle route will traverse a European site there will also be a need for consideration at the project level of any detailed design requirements (such as prevention of access) that will assess the potential impact of any possible net increase in recreational access to, or pressure within, the European site and determine if it is considered acceptable. If any new construction within 200m is required to develop the cycle route a noise and air quality assessment (and potentially noise and air quality mitigation) will be required to ensure there is no construction-related disturbance that could significantly affect SPA birds or significant air pollution impacts on sensitive habitats. There will need to be consideration of any potential for loss of functionally-linked habitat for SPA birds once the actual cycle route is determined. This will only be required if new construction is required within natural habitats and loss of habitat is greater than trivial; this is relevant because very little land is required for a cycle route. In such a situation wintering bird surveys to determine use of the habitats by SPA birds may be required, followed by micro-design adjustments to ensure the route results in no material loss, or, if necessary, appropriate mitigation provided to ensure no adverse effect on the integrity of the European site before the works are consented.

* Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are collectively known as ‘European sites’.