The Missing Link Project

Report by: Victor S Ient MSc., Organiser, South Downs Network

Along with other campaign groups in the South Downs, we aim to persuade local councils, the National Park and the Government to develop safe and sustainable transport ‘missing links’ along roads in the South Downs National Parks.

What is meant by ‘missing links’?

Imagine you are out walking or cycling on a bridleway and you come to a busy rural road. As of often on our roads in the rural south-east, there is a lot of fast-moving traffic. There is no footpath but the place you want to get to is 500 metres down the road, where there is another bridleway. In this case, creating a safe path alongside the road would create a safe link. Other examples of missing link projects include:

  • Villages which are traversed by a busy road where it would be ideal to connect up short sections of existing footpath so that there is a continuous path through the village along the road.
  • Extending existing off-road walking/cycle paths. There are several cases where there are already short sections of cycle path. Extending these to connect with less busy roads will encourage more people to get on their bikes and get out walking for longer distances.

  • Development often takes place in the countryside for housing or commercial purposes without a thought to how people might get to those locations by bicycle or walking. We need to raise the importance of this issue with local councils and developers.

The Missing Link Project

The ‘Missing Link’ Project is aimed at drawing up a list of suitable roads where improvements are needed to make cycling/walking/mobility safer, with the objective to connect short sections of roads to extend cycling and walking networks. In some cases, it will help mobility users and horse riders as well. These ‘links’ are aimed at extending safe recreational, shopping and commuting journeys. It will help the National Park encourage ‘modal shift’ and reduce carbon emissions as more people take to the bike and walk instead of using the car. The survey can help identify locations where a path is required; primarily for cycling, but can include walking (crossing major roads), access to bus stops and train stations.  

We also hope to persuade county councils to adapt their cycling and walking plans to include some of our suggestions.  

Electronic Mapping

The electronic mapping of potential new missing link cycle/walking paths will provide a baseline for all organisations to assess need and priority for investment. The problem in the past has been that many organisations have spent many months surveying and producing schedules for where cycling and walking paths may be needed. These schedules have been submitted in good faith, in the hope that the highway authority (county councils) will take notice and implement their ideas. Obviously, some suggestions have been taken up, but many have not for all sorts of reasons (including no available funds at the time, difficulty in assessing one set of suggestions with those of another organisation, no accurate mapping and so on). Fundamentally the issue here is that the suggestions have been on paper and once sent in, they have often gathered dust in a County Hall file. We want to bring this waste of time to an end. Technology comes to our rescue as it is now possible to map information electronically – it is called GIS mapping. A geographic information system (GIS) is a framework for gathering, managing and analysing data. It helps users make smarter decisions.

What happens once the routes are mapped?

So once one authority, say the National Park, has agreed to host an electronic mapping system, the data which is gathered can be accessed by anyone. It does not mean to say that a particular path gets constructed but it does mean that the proposals or ideas will never be lost. It avoids duplication and helps assess priorities – is it easier to do it this way or that way etc. It can be added to or modified as time goes by. The main benefit of GIS mapping is that it can be used as the baseline for grant applications and infrastructure investment plans. It also helps with estimating and implementing the necessary work.

Implementation!

Once locations have been assessed and mapped, it is hoped that campaigning organisations, parish, district and county councils can use the data to help apply for grants to complete some of these missing links. Obviously, the Highways Authorities (County Councils) would have to approve any improvements. However, we are hoping that with the backing of South Downs National Park the ultimate list of identified locations will gain support more easily than multiple ‘ad hoc’ proposals being put forward.

Once mapped the ‘missing link’ can be used as a basis for negotiating with councils and government to obtain the necessary investment. It will also be useful to help guide investment via a ‘Section 106 agreement’ and ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’ (CIL).

Progress (and hold-ups) in 2019 and 2020

Since the late summer of 2019, we have been working with the South Downs National Park on how such a scheme for missing links can be implemented. The good news is that the National Park are keen to implement a GIS mapping system. However, we have faced some delays. The main one being during the first Covid lockdown in the early spring of 2020 when the National Park could not progress the mapping. This held up the project for nine months. We are now up and running again as resources have been found to carry out the work. Great news!

With the way forward now more certain, all the hard work carried out by volunteers from the various organisations who carried out surveys in 2019 and 2020, can now be reviewed and transferred to the GIS mapping system. This is marvellous news for all the organisations that have contributed to the project. They include: Mid Sussex Bridleways Access Group (British Horse Society), Cycle LewesCycle SeahavenFriends of LewesCycling UK (Hampshire), Sustrans West Sussex, Transport Action Network, Adur and Worthing Cycling, Friends of the Earth and Lewes Living Streets as well as cycle shops such as Bespoke Cycling Eastbourne, CTC Cycling club members and Mr Cycles.

South Downs Network (SDN) continue to coordinate the project with the help of the Friends of the South Downs and the SCATE (South Coast Alliance for Transport and the Environment).

We hope the survey will also contribute to the ongoing work related to the South Downs National Park Partnership Management Plan and to an update to the Park’s Roads in the National Park document.

For more background information see:

9th April 2020:  https://friendsofthesouthdowns.org.uk/missing-link-project-reaches-its-first-milestone/

27th Jan 2020: https://friendsofthesouthdowns.org.uk/missing-link-project-gains-momentum/

16th Jan 2020: https://friendsofthesouthdowns.org.uk/missing-links/

30th Oct 2019: https://friendsofthesouthdowns.org.uk/help-us-complete-that-missing-link/