Since the inception of Thames Chase, the Community Forest has been planned to favour informal access to the area on foot, cycle and horse. Most access will be via an improved rights of way network, particularly footpaths, designed to meet the needs of resident, visitor and landowner; and often across land managed for agriculture or other purposes. Clearly defined areas will be managed for recreation, with open access and a freedom to roam including the significant and expanding areas of community woodland and open habitat owned by the Forestry Commission, local authorities and the Woodland Trust.
A strategic network of recreational routes – referred to as Greenways in previous Thames Chase Plans - has aimed to integrate the safe use of the forest by all local communities and improved connections between public transport networks and the forest continues to remain high on the agenda. Use of the river corridors and their naturalisation, as illustrated by the Ingrebourne Greenway and Mardyke Way, is an efficient and achievable means to facilitate these linkages.
Access on cycle will be along the Greenways network, some of which will be on highways designated as cycleways which might also be part of the National Cycle Network (NCN) or London Cycle Network (LCN) and link the forest area with the urban cycle network. The majority of Greenways, however, are likely to be statutory bridleways, accessible for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
The concept of the ‘Forest Circle’ was originated as the core of the Greenway network, comprising approximately 50 kilometres connecting Brentwood, Ockendon, Aveley, Dagenham and Upminster. Good progress has been made to ensure this provides a safe and attractive multi-user route but significant further investment in the infrastructure and marketing is still needed.
Many other opportunities exist to create further long distance Greenway routes through and around the Thames Chase area, and new circular leisure routes from residential areas at various scales can be achieved through improving east/west connectivity; for instance by linking together the various paths along the Mardyke, Ingrebourne and Beam Valleys. Keeping this strategic network embedded within the green infrastructure policies of Local Plans in Thames Chase remains important for delivery through the planning system.
The other feature of the community forest’s access programme has been the establishment of strategic gateways and hubs that serve the primary road network, urban areas and link with public transport. These are intended to provide access to the Forest via the Greenways network, with some providing for public recreation with a car park, information point, picnic area or perhaps a visitor centre with catering, toilets and interpretation.
In the longer term, reducing traffic in parts of Thames Chase would make some ‘quiet roads’ safer to use as Greenway links, whilst maintaining private access rights. Public transport services could connect with gateways, hubs and the Greenways network for a fully integrated system. The vision of a network of Thames Chase Greenways, gateways and hubs has been delivered in part over the past 20 years, though a strategic review is now required to assess progress made and help shape future priorities for investment.
Summary of Access programme
|Planning for access||Delivering and maintaining access|
Access programme and strategic objectives 1-5
|Objectives||Fit with Programme|
|1. To protect, improve and expand the woodland character of the Community Forest||
|2. To maintain the natural integrity of the Community Forest’s air, land and water including wildlife||
|3. To develop a connected network of links and accessible, vibrant greenspaces throughout the Community Forest||
|4. To integrate climate change adaptation and mitigation responses into the developing Community Forest||
|5. To use the Community Forest to improve local health and well-being, volunteering, learning and employment||
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