Article about the Cycleway

Thanks to Steve Adams for the following article about “The Derwent Valley Cycleway”.

We are so lucky to live in the Derwent Valley. We have beautiful scenery on our doorstep, a wealth of fascinating historical features, and excellent public transport. So why do we need a cycleway in the Derwent Valley?

Actually the more appropriate question is: why isn’t there one already? The Derwent Valley is a much used tourist area, close to population centres in all directions. The valley from Cromford southwards is a World Heritage Site incorporating the mills at Cromford, Belper, Milford and Derby, which were of major significance in the birth of the industrial revolution. The valley is wide enough to accommodate the Cromford canal, the railway line from Derby to Matlock, and the A6 trunk road, as well as the river itself, and there is still sufficient space for a cycleway.

The Derwent Valley already attracts cycling clubs and sports cyclists, who can be found speeding along the A6 or enjoying hill climbing on lanes up the valley sides. What the valley does not cater for is the occasional cyclist at one extreme and the commuter cyclist at the other, nor is it a safe or appealing route for cycling families. If the number and range of cyclists could be increased, it would open up all sorts of commercial opportunities to support the tourist demand, like bed and breakfast, cafés, and bike hire. The many tourist attractions would benefit too by increased numbers of visitors and less congestion from motor vehicles.

Though many people commute from Duffield and Belper into Derby, few manage to cycle regularly. It is clear from conversations and straw polls that many more would cycle if an attractive, safe, off-road alternative to the A6 were provided. Similarly, commuters to Matlock from the south would be encouraged to use the route. The beauty of the surroundings and the lack of significant gradients – one of the objectives of the projected cycleway – would encourage people to cycle for health, and thereby reduce obesity and improve the overall health of the local population. Similarly, increased cycle commuting would reduce vehicle-related carbon emissions, and serious accidents involving cyclists.

Anyone who has cycled any part of the route will know just how inadequate current provision for cyclists is. The A6 is narrow for a major road and takes much heavy traffic. In the holiday season it is subject to traffic jams, and all the year round it is a bus route and the only available route for heavy lorries. The alternative cycling routes tend to follow the top or sides of the ridges above the river, leading to much hill-climbing, beloved of the sports cyclist but off-putting to most. The planned cycleway along the Derwent will closely follow the river for most of its length, which will result in gentle gradients only. It will aim to avoid roads altogether, so traffic will not be an issue.

Surprisingly, the idea has a short history. Sustrans had undertaken a study in 1999 which didn’t progress. More recently, a group of cyclists in Duffield identified the lack of a good commuter route from Duffield to Derby. Meanwhile, cyclists who had explored other similar river valleys in the rest of Europe noted that some have dedicated cycle routes following them. Finally, the local MP, Pauline Latham, spoke in Parliament about the opportunity for a Derwent Valley cycleway, as a result of which the various parties got together, leading to a meeting and the foundation of a campaign.

A Derwent Valley Cycleway Working Group has been set up by the Derwent Valley Trust. This includes representatives of local councils, Sustrans, Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, local cycling organisations, and local businesses. This Group is working closely with Derby City Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) on an initial phase of the Cycleway between the city centre and the A38 at Abbey Hill as part of the Our City Our River flood alleviation initiative. There is already a LEP programme of projects which aims to improve the attractiveness of Derby for cyclists and provide travel-to-work routes through the city to work areas such as Infinity Park.

The distance between Derby and Matlock is 24.5km as the crow flies. The length of the draft preferred route is approximately 31.5km (19.5 miles). Possible sources of funding for the project have been sought and identified, and relevant organisations have been consulted and involved. A lot of effort has gone into understanding – and if possible accommodating – concerns that landowners on the planned route may have. Happily, most landowners are positive, though inevitably there are issues that will need to be resolved.

The cycleway has been conceived in three phases. Phase I is the southernmost, consisting of a first portion from Derby City to Ford Lane in Allestree, and a second portion, linking Ford Lane with Belper. This phase already exists in places. From Haslams Lane by Derby Rugby Club, the route follows Folly Road on Cycle Route 54, over Folly Bridge, through Darley playing fields and Parkers Piece, over the footbridge and into the city centre.

The northern part (Phase II) links Matlock and Cromford, and will join up with the White Peak Loop. The Loop will link Buxton, Bakewell, Matlock, and Cromford, and is already complete, apart from the final stretch between Cromford and Matlock – which the Derwent Valley Cycleway will provide.

The middle section (Phase III) will connect the other two phases, thereby delivering the complete route.

The full extent of funding needed will depend on many factors, chief among which is how many new bridges are needed to supplement those which are already there. The Cycleway may at times be able to use existing tracks, thereby reducing costs, though the state of such tracks will be a significant consideration. Other issues include legal difficulties, the width of the route, and the composition of the surface.

For the draft route of 19.5 miles, the total budget is estimated at £7 million, including four new bridges. Various sources are being considered for grants including the Local Enterprise Partnership and local councils, Sport England and Landfill Levy distributors. Discussions are currently taking place to appoint consultants to undertake a feasibility study – itself likely to cost £100k – to produce an accurate figure for the total cost, and to obtain planning permission for the projected route.

The cycleway will mostly be a separate dedicated route either in tarmac or in water bound gravel. For short sections across bridges where the Cycleway follows a road it will be protected by a barrier or at least very clearly marked. It will be signposted at every junction and will have health and safety notices about good conduct in the presence of pedestrians and horses. It is expected that it will form part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network.

The route of the cycleway links with several railways including the Midland Mainline between Derby and Sheffield, the branch line service from Derby to Matlock, the Ecclesbourne railway between Duffield and Wirksworth, and the Peak Rail service north from Matlock. It is envisaged that there will be scope for the railway companies to offer combined cycle/train tickets (e.g. cycle one way and return by train). Discussions with the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway have been very positive, and Midland Mainline are working on a programme of cycle hire centres at their stations. The Cycleway will also link directly to the planned HS2 routes through Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

To get a flavour of how the Cycleway will look, the stretch of new cycle track that has already been built from Rowsley to Matlock, following the Peak Rail line, is similar as far as the surface and dimensions are concerned. From the Matlock Riverside station, much of the Cycleway between Matlock and Whatstandwell will be new, though there is a bridge already over the river, canal and railway at High Peak Junction which is likely to be utilised.

There will be a new river crossing at Whatstandwell, and then a short stretch of existing tarmac as it enters Shining Cliff Woods. The route here will be new until the Wire Works at Ambergate, where there is a short stretch of metalled track. A new section follows a zigzag route to cross the railway, where it joins Wyver Lane, continuing as far as Belper Bridge.

From the crossing of the A517 (Belper to Ashbourne) road, it once again follows an existing footpath to the west of Belper Meadows. After the sewage works, the route will be new from Milford to Duffield, where it follows the metalled drive by the railway called Donald Hawley Way almost to the parish church. Then there is another new section across fields before connecting to a metalled drive almost to Abbey Hill on the A38.

It should be possible to go under the A38 since there is already a tunnel, and then a new track will go to Haslams Lane, coming out by Derby Rugby Club. Here, the cycle track is already in place, heading down Folly Road, over Folly Bridge and through Darley Playing Fields, before crossing the river over Handysides Bridge, and following the river to the Silk Mill. A lot of work is going on here at present in connection with flood protection, but a route can still be followed, and again it gives an impression of what the Cycleway will be like.

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