A Hampshire MP has called for sportives in the New Forest to be regulated, with the local council given powers to determine when events are held as well as the number of cyclists participating in them, saying that the area “is a living, working forest, not a theme park.”
Dr Julian Lewis, the Conservative MP for New Forest East, made his appeal during Thursday’s debate in the House of Commons on progress made in implementing the recommendations of the Get Britain Cycling report, published last year.
While he acknowledged that cycling is “integral to the public profile of the New Forest,” he claimed “a major problem has arisen in relation to cycling” there due to growth in the number of people participating in events such as sportives.
“We have had mass cycling events in the New Forest for many years, and they caused no difficulties whatsoever when the numbers concerned were in the order of 500 or 600 participants – that is quite a lot when thinking about rural roads,” he said.
Noting that unlike road races, sportives are not regulated by statute, he went on to say that participants “are competing not against each other but against themselves.
“They are seeking at all times to better the speed and time with which they complete quite lengthy cycle rides in the New Forest, and that brings obvious dangers and disadvantages to other road users and to the livestock of the New Forest.”
Pointing out that “ponies, donkeys and cattle have the right of way on public roads, and motorists and cyclists do not,” he said, “unless these major events are regulated — hopefully with a very light touch — there are obvious dangers of clashes, accidents and the generation of ill-feeling.”
He added that “the antipathy and poisoning of the well, caused by the clashes over those mass cycling events” was one of the factors behind the New Forest National Park Authority’s decision not to go ahead with a planned cycle hire scheme funded by money from the Department for Transport.
Labour MP Ian Austin, who led the debate and is co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, asked Dr Lewis who else he thought “should be prevented from coming to the New Forest: the people who want to walk around the New Forest or to run along its roads, or is it just cyclists that he thinks should be regulated off the roads of the New Forest?”
In response, Dr Lewis explained, “No one is talking about anyone being regulated off the roads. On the contrary, we want them to be regulated on the roads. That is precisely the demand the communities in the New Forest are making, because the New Forest is a living, working forest. It is not a theme park.”
Outlining his proposals, he explained: “The sensible arrangements are that the local authority should have the power to determine the frequency of these events, that it should have the right to limit the total numbers participating in the events, and that the participants should wear some form of identification, probably numbering, so that where there are mass events and incidents occur — let us be frank about this, sometimes incidents of an aggressive nature do occur — then there can be no question about misidentification.”
He added: “It is really unfortunate that the attitude towards cycling in general by the representatives of the national park and the community in the New Forest has been so damaged by this dispute over mass cycling events that cycling is getting a bad name.”
The MP concluded by urging transport minister Robert Goodwill to put reserve regulatory powers in place to address situations such as clashes between mass cycling events or with pony drifts, in the hope that “the New Forest and cycling will once again be bracketed together harmoniously, rather than as a source of dissonance and friction.”
The minister, however, made no reference to Dr Lewis’s remarks when addressing the chamber at the conclusion of the debate.
On the issue of Dr Lewis’s claims of the danger posed to livestock by cyclists, there have been no recorded instances of an animal being killed or injured in an incident involving a bicycle in the last 15 years.
According to detailed records from the Verderers of the New Forest, there have only been two such incidents in which a bicycle was involved during the past three decades, one in 1998, the other in 1999.
The vast majority of incidents take place during the hours of darkness and involve private cars, with the motorist more likely than not to be a local.
This month’s Wiggle New Forest 100 sportive passed off without incident, despite fears having been raised by New Forest District Council’s safety advisory group about a clash with the CTC Wessex Gridiron 100 event the same day.
In May this year, British Cycling called for sportives to be regulated after a video emerged of a route clash between one such event and the Yorkshire Regional Road Race, with some participants in the former ignoring a marshal’s instruction to stop riding while the race passed.
A spokesperson for the governing body said the footage “is a perfect illustration of why the lack of any form of calendar co-ordination and regulation around sportives is a serious concern that needs to be urgently addressed.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.