Chris Boardman and Jens Voigt back New Forest bike hire scheme ahead of key meeting next week
Petition to save scheme passes 1,000 signatures after high-profile backing
A petition to save a £2 million family-friendly cycle hire scheme in the New Forest, which faces being scrapped, has attracted more than 1,000 signatures after winning the support of former Olympic and world champion Chris Boardman and Trek Factory Racing rider Jens Voigt.
The petition was set up on the Change.org website earlier this week by Twitter user New Forest Cyclist after it emerged that a committee set up by the New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA) had recommended pulling the plug on the scheme due to concerns over sponsorship and mounting anti-cycling sentiment in the area.
An extraordinary meeting of the NFNPA next Tuesday is expected to drop the initiative, despite detailed plans having been finalised, a preferred supplier selected, and the securing of £2 million of funding from the Department for Transport to pay for it.
Writing on Twitter this morning and tweeting a link to the petition, Boardman, who now acts as policy advisor to British Cycling, said: “More cycling in the New Forest or more cars? Mmmmimm, tough choice.”
Voigt, a former team mate of Boardman at Crédit Agricole and who last year led a charity ride in the New Forest, also retweeted a link to the petition.
Graham Bright, partnership director for the UK and Europe at the preferred supplier, B-Cycle, told the Bournemouth Echo that he was hopeful of allaying NFNPA members’ worries over the viability of the scheme at Tuesday’s meeting.
“This came out the blue both to us and officers of the National Park Authority”, he said.
“We have not had an opportunity to engage with members.
“The things they have mentioned in their reports can be easily addressed.
“Our business model that we put to the authority does not require sponsorship in order to be sustaining.
“Even if we do not receive sponsorship, the model is sustainable.
“It would be our risk and our cost.”
Local opposition to mass cycling events in the national park by a small but vocal group of activists was cited as one of the reasons for recommending that the scheme be shelved.
But Mr Bright said: “It is a slow leisure ride for families that want to explore the forest. Our bikes typically move at a speed of 7mph, similar to a fast runner.
“They won’t be hammering through Brockenhurst.”
He went on: “From my perspective I am disappointed not to have had the opportunity to address the points.
“I am surprised that this has happened but keen to do what I can to make sure this goes ahead.
“It would have brought a number of benefits to the area including environmental as congestion will be reduced.
“There were economic benefits as well with local businesses involved in repairing the bikes. Now they will lose out.
“They had a vision to go and secure the funding.
“They have shown the leadership in going through a very rigorous procurement and I hope that together we could have the courage to go forward and make this a reality.
He added: “I am still hopeful and really relish the chance to make this happen.”