Science Vale Cycling Network routes completed and open

More commuters can leave their cars behind after the opening of a £5.8 million cycling and footpath network in South Oxfordshire, linking three large employment centres with nearby towns.

Oxfordshire County Council has finished work on five cycling routes which make up the first phase of the Science Vale Cycling Network project – more than 10km of improved cycle and pedestrian paths that are now open to the public.

The routes link the science and research centres at Harwell Campus, Milton Park and Culham Science Centre with Abingdon, Wantage and Didcot, including Didcot Parkway railway station.

Councillor Yvonne Constance, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment, said: “The completion of these five cycling routes is great news for this part of the county, and complements the work being carried out in Oxford, Witney and Bicester as part of our active travel programme. Having the infrastructure in place is a huge factor when it comes to persuading people to swap the car for the bike, and the Science Vale Cycle Network is just the sort of project that will make it easier to take the healthier option.”

Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic and the nature of the off-road routes, the work was completed three months before the funding deadline, and route 1 earned a Green Apple Environment Award for minimising carbon emissions and reducing environmental impact during construction.

Some of these environmentally friendly practices included:

  • Powering the on-site offices by using solar energy.
  • Using sustainable materials, such as locally sourced European oak.
  • Reusing excavated soil to minimise waste to landfill.
  • Navigating within existing trees, reducing the tree clearance and preventing negative impact on biodiversity.
  • Pioneering photo-luminescent technology – i-glo discs – as path markers. They glow brightly throughout the night and use natural light to recharge during the day.
  • Using a new sustainable paving, Flexipave, 50 per cent of which is made from recycled tyres. This porous material allows large volumes of water and air to penetrate the surface and promotes water recharge directly into natural aquifers, which hold groundwater. More than 16,000 tyres were used to deliver 7,115 metres of Flexipave, contributing to a carbon reduction of 382,217kg CO2 from surfacing alone.

The project is part of the Science Vale Cycling Network strategy, which supports and enables housing growth near employment sites. The strategy’s vision is for a world-class cycle network enabling users to make safe, efficient, connected journeys by bike, comparable with those found in continental Europe, supporting the growth and investment being made in Science Vale.

The Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) secured £5.1m of funding for the project through the government’s Local Growth Fund. The investment shows OxLEP’s commitment to improving infrastructure and connectivity across Oxfordshire, with the aim of providing greater accessibility, reducing congestion and travel times, supporting jobs and improving the quality of life for people and communities.

The rest of the money came from Oxfordshire County Council, largely from developers’ Section 106 contributions.

Nigel Tipple, OxLEP Chief Executive, said: “The completion of such a significant project – that will have a positive impact on our business community – is excellent news, particularly in a post COVID-19 economy.

“As the local enterprise partnership for Oxfordshire, we will continue to play a vitally important role for the county moving forward, securing investment that enables new opportunities and effective connectivity that will benefit the county’s businesses for many years to come.”

The science and technology parks welcomed the improvement of facilities for existing cyclists and walkers, and those who would now be tempted to take up active travel.

Philip Campbell, Commercial Director of MEPC, which manages Milton Park – home to 250 businesses and 9,000 employees – said: “To officially open this key section of new infrastructure at a time when people are telling us that they would like to travel to and from work using sustainable travel modes is a positive milestone. Thank you to the project teams at the county council, their contractors, and our team for delivering the project. We hope that people enjoy using the new path and it helps to make their commute that little bit easier.”