A member of New Forest District Council who also sits on the New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA) has replied to an open letter to the Department for Transport (DfT) from a local cycle campaigner that was published on road.cc earlier this week. The reply is broadly supportive of the cylist’s concerns, and it’s pretty clear the NFNPA member who wrote it is expressing his own views and not those of the authority.
The campaigner, Twitter user @ForestCyclist, wrote his letter to transport ministers “as a last resort,” saying it had been “prompted by a comprehensive refusal by the NFNPA to engage in any meaningful and constructive way with the wider cycling community” over its plans for spending £3.75 million awarded to it by the DfT in August last year.
The letter, which you can read in full here, details how a planned cycle hire scheme had been shelved despite £84,000 already being spent on a feasibility study and procurement exercise. It also queried whether the NFNPA’s ‘Plan B,’ which among other things will see the DfT cash used for highway maintenance projects, was legitimate use of the money.
In his response, David Harrison, Liberal Democrat councillor for the Totton South ward of the Conservative-controlled council, expresses “deep regret” about the decision not to go ahead with the bike hire scheme, one that “has sent out entirely the wrong message, adding to a public perception that the New Forest is an unfriendly place for cyclists.”
He acknowledges that some of the projects money will be spent on under ‘Plan B’ will be of less benefit to cyclists than others, but says “it needs to be recognised that it is now very hard for officers to identify and progress projects that can be delivered in a timescale of months” due to issues such as planning, consultation and land acquisition.
On the issue of planned expenditure on those projects that appear to be more maintenance-related, the councillor notes that “re-surfacing roads and even existing cycle routes is something that the local highway authority, Hampshire County Council, should be doing as part of its responsibility and using highways budgets.”
Councillor Harrison concludes by observing that “any money that isn't used will go back to central government and I certainly hope will be used on cycling projects elsewhere.”
His reply is reproduced in full below. We have not yet received a reply to @ForestCyclist’s open letter from the NFNPA itself.
Thank you for your open letter about the failure of the New Forest National Park Authority to implement the rural bike hire scheme and for your thoughts on the “Plan B” proposals for spending the money elsewhere in the New Forest area.
I deeply regret the decision of my colleagues to abandon the rural bike hire scheme. It has wasted a great deal of officer time and £84,000 of public money. It has sent out entirely the wrong message, adding to a public perception that the New Forest is an unfriendly place for cyclists. It has passed up an opportunity, to show that such an innovative scheme can be made to work. It has also stifled potentially successful business opportunities and prevented visitors and local people from easily accessing and enjoying the recreational benefits of cycling in a beautiful National Park.
I think it is for other members, the ones one decided to abandon the project at the eleventh hour, to set out their reasons for doing so. Certainly, I have not yet heard a strong and convincing argument for taking the action they did.
As to the Plan B proposals, it needs to be recognised that it is now very hard for officers to identify and progress projects that can be delivered in a timescale of months. It takes several years for significant infrastructure improvements to be made, including all the consultations, planning permissions, acquiring the necessary land, drawing up legal agreements etc. In practice then, the only projects that can be progressed within such short timescales are “shovel-ready” ones, where all such work has been done.
I am very hopeful that at least some of the money now made available will go towards creating an off-road tarmac cycle and footpath linking my home town of Totton to Marchwood and that this will later link up with other safer ways of cycling out into the New Forest from the nearby urban areas. This is a good use of public money it will benefit cyclists and is consistent with the aims and objectives of the Park Authority.
Other proposed uses of the money will have a lesser benefit. For example, improving facilities for cyclists outside the New Forest Park boundaries (Moors Valley Country Park), will be a positive thing and will help ease some of the pressures in the more environmentally sensitive parts of the New Forest, but it is not exactly what the money was originally intended to do.
I can also see that there are concerns about other proposed projects which look very much like maintenance items. Re-surfacing roads and even existing cycle routes is something that the local highway authority, Hampshire County Council, should be doing as part of its responsibility and using highways budgets. It might be that Park Authority officers can convince the Department of Transport that the proposals amount to rather more than that and therefore qualify. It will be interesting to see which projects are accepted and which not. Any money that isn't used will go back to central government and I certainly hope will be used on cycling projects elsewhere,
Councillor David Harrison
New Forest National Park Authority.
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