M3 Junction 9: Highways England U-turns on cycleways

Abandoned plans for a new cycle route and a new bridleway…

Earlier this month Highways England (the agency responsible for England’s motorways and trunk roads) launched the next phase of its consultation on the redesign of M3 Junction 9 at Winnall.

We here at Cycle Winchester were looking forward to seeing the updated designs. In previous phases of this project, the Highways England project team had been positive and constructive about active travel and cycling, a total contrast to their previous attitude.

Sadly, it turned out they’d abandoned their plans for a new cycle route and a new bridleway, reducing the options for cycling back to the bare minimum.

In short: we need you to put pressure on Highways England to live up to their promises for improved cycling facilities.

Please respond to their consultation (https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/he/m3-junction-9-supplementary/), asking them to restore the original plans for a properly-surfaced cycleway to Kings Worthy and a bridleway to Long Walk, not just footpaths. We also suggest that you write to your local MP and councillors to build pressure on Highways England.

Now read on for a fuller description.

A bit of history

The main point of the Junction 9 project is to enable motor traffic to pass between the A34 and the M3 without stopping at a roundabout. However because of its position, it also has an important role to play in walking, cycling and horse-riding access, both from Winchester into the countryside and between Winchester and Kings Worthy. It’s a £150 million project which began consultations in 2018, is due to start construction in 2023 and be open by 2026.

Two years ago, at the end of the last consultation in March 2019, we and other “non-motorised user” groups (including reps from the Ramblers, British Horse Society, Sustrans etc.) had been invited to a workshop where the project team showed us revised plans for the junction. The plans included:

  • A traffic-free cycle path across the junction from Winnall to Easton Lane, giving access to Easton and the Itchen valley on National Cycle Route 23.

This was always part of the plan, upgrading the substandard cycle route that already exists across the junction, and reconnecting the two ends of Easton Lane, truncated when the M3 was built.

  • A traffic-free shared cycle/pedestrian path from Junction 9 to the Cart & Horses junction on the A33 at Kings Worthy.

This was new, in response to the earlier consultations. It would provide a level, easy 2-mile route for Kings Worthy residents to get to the retail and business areas in Winnall without going through the city centre or having to use the hazardous, narrow cyclepath on Worthy Road. It could also form part of a direct cycle route from Kings Worthy to the new leisure centre in Bar End, using the existing tarmac path that runs from Winnall to Highcliffe. It would also provide better cycle access from the outlying villages into town. It could be revolutionary in terms of getting people to start cycling more and driving a bit less.

At the time, the Junction 9 project boundary stopped short of Kings Worthy, so the project team told us they had put in a bid for the extra funding needed to extend the planned cycleway all the way.

  • A new bridleway on the eastern side of the motorway, providing an off-road trail from Easton Lane to Long Walk.

This would complete a circular rural route from Easton village, mainly designed for horse riders but also (being a bridleway) open to walkers and off-road cyclists. It was proposed by the South Downs National Park Authority as something to benefit the horse-riding community, so Highways England had written it into the plan.

We were encouraged. At last it seemed that Highways England were starting to get the “active travel” message and ensuring that their new development would do something to help people get around by bike. The project team promised to communicate with us regularly and provide more detail as the plans developed.

Two years of silence followed. Fine, we thought, they’ve been delayed by Covid-19, those updated designs will be along soon.

What’s changed?

Then two weeks ago, we were invited to a virtual event to launch the new consultation, with new designs.

It turned out that the Highways England project team had made not one, but two U-turns.

  • The original cyclepath for National Cycle Route 23 is still there, though they’ve made it longer and more circuitous than in the previous plans. In 2019 we raised a number of questions about safety and quality of the design, and were promised that the answers would be forthcoming in the next phase. Two years on, none of them have been answered in the new proposals.
  • The cyclepath to Kings Worthy has been downgraded to a footpath, with no cycle access. Why? They couldn’t tell us. They obviously got their extra funding, as the path goes all the way to Kings Worthy in the plans. It’s a 2-mile route close to major roads – a long slog on foot and not really a relaxing country stroll, but very handy as a commuter route on a bike or e-bike. It makes no sense as a footpath.
  • The bridleway through the fields to Long Walk has also been downgraded to a footpath, with no access for cyclists or horse riders. Again, they couldn’t explain why. They seemed to have forgotten that the whole point of that path was to provide something for horse-riders.

Another thing that’s missing from their plans is any information at all about closures or diversions of the existing cycle route during the construction work, which will last three years. We’ve been promised more detail but not until after the current consultation period finishes, so there won’t be any opportunity to comment on it formally.

We were stunned, as were the people representing equestrian and walking interests. It can’t be costs: the cost saving from turning a cycleway into a footpath is microscopic in relation to the size of the overall Junction 9 project, yet Highways England were suddenly prepared to undo all the good work they’d done previously.

So, what now?

The Highways England project team has promised to talk to us and the other “non-motorised users” again at the end of June, but we don’t know whether that will result in any progress.

We need you to help us put pressure on them to live up to their promises for improved cycling facilities.

The Junction 9 project is a controversial one. Many people argue that it’s a waste of money that will encourage more motor traffic leading to more CO2 emissions; others think it’s necessary to reduce congestion at the crucial M3/A34 link. As a cycling group, we don’t make a judgement on that. Our concern is that if the project does go ahead, it should deliver some benefits for active travel in and around Winchester. It’s not enough for them just to replace the one existing made cycle route with something a little better. They should live up to the promises they made two years ago.

Please go to the M3 Junction 9 website and respond to their consultation:

https://highwaysengland.co.uk/our-work/south-east/m3-junction-9-improvements/

Please ask them to restore the original plans for a properly-surfaced cycleway to Kings Worthy and a bridleway to Long Walk, not just footpaths. (What you say about the rest of the plans is, of course, up to you!) That way we can show that there’s support for the walking, cycling and horse-riding routes they originally promised.

In addition, make the point that the upgrade to National Cycle Route 23 should meet the latest Government guidelines (document LTN 1/20).

We also suggest that you write to your local MP and councillors. Ask them to urge Highways England to reinstate the original cycleway and bridleway proposals.

Thank you.

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