Sunday, 7 July 2019

Rural Transport - Harwich vs Hulst

Whilst driving between Clacton-on-Sea and Harwich yesterday, I was reminded how badly let down our rural communities are when it comes to transport. 

In contrast with many parts of the UK I have to regularly remind myself that although London is vast, it has a great transport system and it's really not too difficult to get around. But, our trip was London to Clacton to Harwich and back home to London, so car it was. Part of out trip included the B1414 which happens to be NCN51;

It's a route which essentially runs parallel to the A120 between Colchester and Harwich port. By car, the recommended route via the A120 is 29km and the NCN51 is about 30km - it's therefore not in commuter territory, although it does connect up a number of villages and once one is within 7km of Harwich port, it would in theory help people travel to Harwich from the villages of Great Oakley and Little Oakley - perhaps 30 minutes by cycle.

However, there is absolutely nothing to make cycling pleasant and indeed possible for most people. The cycle route is essentially just a series of signs to guide you along the twisty lanes, many with a national speed limit. As I cruised the route from the safety and comfort of the car, I saw one person cycling on a section of narrow footway and that was it.

Compare with the Dutch town of Hulst in South Zeeland at the same scale;

Routes galore providing easy access by cycle, not because there are more of them, because they are high quality. Hulst has the N290 skirting it, taking longer distance traffic around the town as Harwich has the A120 skirting it (with a connection to the port of course). But whereas NCN51 is just signs, the cycle routes around Hulst have cycle tracks like this (on a section running by the side of the N290);

It also has traffic calmed and quiet village streets;

From what I can work out, both towns have a number of bus routes serving them, although not that frequently. They also have plenty of people driving to them if you look at their respective town centres and parking availability. But if the bus doesn't suit you or help you, then it's really the car or nothing to get to Harwich from the local villages. 

Meanwhile, Hulst has got the ultimate turn-up and go mode designed in to its road network and parking is free as well. We have so far to go and given Harwich is one of our gateways to the Netherlands it's embarrassing.


  1. Interesting photo of the cycle route near Hulst. I suppose that to achieve something similar in this country would require purchase of strips of land adjacent to the road in order to provide space for cycle lanes (and for footways for people to walk too!. Unfortunately I can't imagine many landowners being willing to sell. Perhaps highway authorities should be empowered to seize the land where necessary to achieve safe routes for cyclists and pedestrians?

    1. Given the climate emergency and all of the other issues, it should be simple to obtain land - Cambridgeshire has certainly done this, but it is complicated if the owner isn't helpful. In planning terms, highway authorities do have powers to undertake works to the side of the existing highway which is helpful.

  2. Withe the government's dogmatic insistence on austerity and cuts to public funding, finding the money is likely to be a major problem in acquiring land