Plan for improved Oxford to Cambridge cycleway moves a step closer with new report

November 15th 2022

Plans for an improved Varsity Way cycle route boosting tourism and active travel between Oxford and Cambridge have moved a step closer thanks to work commissioned by England’s Economic Heartland (EEH).

Analysis by active travel charity Sustrans shows there are opportunities to improve nearly half of the existing routes 51 and 66 to address issues such as narrow shared paths, safety, poor signage and deteriorating surfaces.

Making these improvements to deliver the Varsity Way would:

  • Create a leisure and tourism attraction for the region
  • Improve local connectivity to cities, towns, villages and tourist attractions
  • Enable better ‘first mile, last mile’ connectivity to transport hubs such as railway stations, including several which will be served by East West Rail
  • Act as a catalyst for improvements to the wider national cycle network across the Heartland
  • Realise health benefits that arise from increased levels of walking and cycling.

‘Introducing the Varsity Way’ was launched at EEH’s annual conference on 16 November, held in Milton Keynes. The report, made possible by funding from the Department for Transport, marks the first step towards making improvements to the Varsity Way a reality. It includes consideration of the rationale for the cycleway between Oxford and Cambridge, a summary of discussions with stakeholders and summarises an assessment of the existing routes and the opportunities to improve them.

Chair of England’s Economic Heartland, Cllr Richard Wenham, said: “This new report clearly demonstrates the opportunity to develop a high-quality greenway linking the cities, towns and villages across its route and becoming a leisure and tourism attraction for the region. Just as importantly, it has the potential to improve access by active travel to transport hubs such as railway stations, including several which will be served by East West Rail.

“This report – and detailed work which underpins it – provides the foundation for EEH and its partners to make the case for investment in the Varsity Way.”

Sustrans’ England Director for the Midlands and East, Clare Maltby, said: “As custodians of the National Cycle Network, Sustrans is working in partnership to improve the quality and accessibility of our routes.

“Our work on Varsity Way has set out how this route can be improved and identified the enormous benefits that could bring. Investment in the National Cycle Network brings economic benefits, increasing leisure and tourism spending. It reduces carbon emissions from transport, supporting the path to net zero. And creating accessible paths for everyone brings substantial physical and mental health benefits.”

Additional funding is now being sought to progress plans for the Varsity Way. Next steps include work to investigate potential re-alignment of the route in the Marston Vale (in response to stakeholder feedback) and further engagement to help progress the project.