For historical reasons, the rail station serving Saffron Walden is at Audley End, about 1.5 miles west of Saffron Walden. There are three principal routes from Saffron Walden to Audley End – Wenden Road is the most direct. Wenden Road is a typical rural road with narrow carriageways, poor visibility, no provision for cyclists and very limited provision for pedestrians. Although there have been campaigns on and off for more than 25 years to achieve a safe cycling and pedestrian path along the Wenden Road, nothing has been done.
As well as being one of the three roads connecting Saffron Walden to Audley End Station, Wenden Road also connects with routes to the west of Audley End. National Cycle Network Route 11 lies about 1 mile west of Audley End station and Wenden Road is one of the two main access routes to it.
Wenden Road is relatively heavily used for very short periods of the day, when peak commuter trains are arriving or departing, but otherwise traffic is light. However, there is a widespread fear of cycling or walking along Wenden Road held by many people, partly because the sight lines are poor and partly because the road is too narrow for two cars and a pedestrian or cyclist to pass, and because of the use of the road by wider vehicles.
The 1.5mile distance from Saffron Walden to Audley End station falls right in the middle of the Government’s target for journeys to be by cycle or foot, yet the danger and the perception of danger stops most people from using it.
Currently, it is estimated that 40-50 people cycle or walk along Wenden Road daily – by comparison, the feedback to Access Walden’s exhibition of route options in September 2012 was that 600 cyclists or pedestrians would use it daily or weekly if it was made safe. Meanwhile there are almost always a large number of cars in the Audley End station car park.
The Access Walden campaign therefore has two aims, to make the road safer for existing users, and to release the huge number of potential cyclists and pedestrians, and encourage a modal shift on Wenden Road away from the predominant use of private motor cars.
There are numerous reasons, including local, county and national policy reasons for doing this, and a standard cost-benefit analysis shows major cost benefits from even a relatively small shift away from private car use. As well as the obvious environmental and health benefits, a significant number of local residents either do not have access to a car or cannot afford to run one, or struggle to pay the high station car-parking charges. A safe cycle and pedestrian path would give better access for more people and should also save local residents money. Traffic congestion, and levels of air pollution well above national legal maximum levels, are major issues in Saffron Walden, exacerbated by its medieval street pattern. Allowing people an alternative to car-use should contribute to reducing these issues.
The lack of a footpath for most of the road’s length makes walking potentially lethal, but is a risk some are often forced to take. For one person, the frightening walk back from Audley End Station became the catalyst for our campaign, you can read more about this on our About page, here.
It is very fortunate that in all its time, there have been no recorded fatalities along Wenden Road but it has had its fair share of incidents, unfortunately many go unreported.
Numerous attempts have been made to establish a safe cycling and pedestrian path along the Wenden Road over the years, but without success. To give just a couple of examples in recent years, in April 1999, Essex County Council published its “Uttlesford Cycle Network Plan” (copy available on request), which envisaged a network of cycle paths serving Saffron Walden and Great Dunmow, including a path along the Wenden Road. Then in 2005, Uttlesford District Council adopted their latest Local Plan, which provided that the Wenden Road cycle path should be adopted within the Plan period (ie by the end of 2011 at the latest). Despite this, nothing has happened, and indeed there are still only two cycle paths in the whole of Uttlesford – the only cycle path in the north of Uttlesford stretches some 400 metres from the edge of Saffron Walden to the local household waste recycling centre!
The current campaign began when Access Walden was formed in 2011. Jan Durkin wrote to the local press to complain about the dangers of Wenden Road after she had walked back to Saffron Walden from Audley End Station one afternoon. Her letter was made into a front page story, click here for the article. Encouraged by the feedback she received, Jan decided to see how much support there was for the path by launching a petition in the Saffron Walden Market Square over the next three Saturdays. The support was staggering, with more than 3,000 signatures in support in just three days.
From that start, Access Walden embarked on a lobbying campaign with the Saffron Walden town, Uttlesford District and Essex County Councils, to try to make them recognise the huge public demand for a path.
In October 2011, Access Walden held its first major public event, the Ride and Ramble. Wenden Road was shut for a Sunday morning, and local residents were invited to join us for the morning and walk or cycle the route. Again, public support was incredible, with some 900 people joining. The photos show our initial rally outside the Uttlesford District Council offices, before the procession moved off to the Wenden Road. For these photos, please click here.
Much of 2012 was spent in detailed design work, testing out alternative route options, and trying to achieve options which would have least environmental impact and least impact on other road users, but would achieve our fundamental aim of a safe path, and at a cost considered by Essex County Council and Uttlesford District Council to be acceptable. This work culminated in our public exhibition of route options in Saffron Walden town hall over two successive weekends in September 2012. Four routes were presented, two of which envisaged a new path alongside the existing road, one of which envisaged making the Wenden Road one-way with the other carriage-way given over to cyclists and pedestrians, and the fourth envisaged closing Wenden Road to motor traffic, save for local access. Details of the four route options can be seen by clicking here. A list of frequently asked questions and answers can be found on our FAQ page, here.
Some 1,615 people attended the exhibition and returned questionnaires, the vast majority from local residents. Of these, roughly 70% were supportive of the one-way option, largely on the basis that it appeared to achieve the core aim of a safe path, at a cost which was potentially acceptable and with relatively little inconvenience for other road users. Please click here for the results graph.
Following the exhibition, Essex County Council carried out an informal consultation, including with the businesses along the Wenden Road and with Wendens Ambo Parish Council. In early 2013, the Uttlesford District Council Local Highways Panel agreed to fund a detailed design study for the path, and work on that study has now been commenced by Essex County Council.
The timetable drafted by Essex County Council envisages that a detailed design should be completed in October 2013. Assuming that an acceptable design can be achieved – and the signs so far are positive – we would then hope to be able to look for funding soon afterwards.