The New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA) has been told to hand back £1.5 million of government money allocated for cycling after the Department for Transport (DfT) rejected two schemes it planned to spend the money on. One of those, accounting for £1.25 million, had been criticised as being more focused on road maintenance than on cycling.
The cash formed part of a £3.6 million grant that the NFNPA secured from the DfT last year, £2 million of which was originally intended to be spent on a cycle hire scheme in the national park.
The NFNPA decided to abandon that proposal in August, despite having spent £84,000 on a feasibility study and selecting a preferred supplier.
Instead it produced what it called ‘Plan B,’ which included the £1.25 million upgrading of Rhinefield Drive and developing cycling facilities at Moors Valley Country Park.
Campaigners, including Twitter user New Forest Cyclist in an open letter published on road.cc, questioned whether some of the proposals and in particular the ones for Rhinefield Drive, were legitimate use of money allocated specifically for cycling.
A spokesman for the NFNPA confirmed to road.cc this morning that those two projects, together worth £1.5 million, have been rejected by the DfT. Four smaller schemes focused on cycling and valued at a combined total of approximately £500,000 have been given the go-ahead.
Transport minister Robert Goodwill, whose responsibilities include cycling, said in a statement published on the DfT's website: "We hope that the decision announced today will reinvigorate the New Forest programme and help the project encourage cycling.
"We must do all we can to make sure our investment in cycling infrastructure supports schemes that matter to people and make a difference. That is why we have taken the decision to reallocate this money to other schemes."
An earlier comment from the minister, supplied via the NFNPA in a press release, had said that the DfT “acknowledges that whilst it may be disappointing news for the New Forest, this was a hugely ambitious project, and the decision taken represents one that achieves the best balance for programme delivery and value."
The four projects approved today need to be completed by September 2015. They are:
£140,000 for smoother, more compacted gravel surfaces on 25km of existing off-road cycle tracks through the heart of the New Forest. This will make journeys more comfortable for local and visiting cyclists and will be delivered by the Forestry Commission (FC)
£185,000 for a new 2km off-road cycle route from Marchwood to Eling, connecting the National Park with Southampton and Totton which will be delivered by Hampshire County Council (HCC).
£168,000 for 3km of bridleway improvements for more comfortable access to Fawley, Minstead and Emery Down, to be delivered by HCC and Countryside Services
£30,000 for a new 0.5km off-road cycle track at Ringwood, which will form part of the popular Castleman Way cycle route linking the New Forest with Poole. This will be delivered by New Forest District Council.
The NFNPA added that Mr Goodwill had given his support to a planned family cycling centre in Brockenhurst, to be developed subject to planning permission by local bike hire business, Cyclexperience. It will receive £150,000 towards the £301,000 cost of the project.
Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, the NFNPA’s chairman, said: “Our aim has always been to improve cycle routes and facilities to make it easier, safer and more comfortable for people to cycle to and around the New Forest for work or pleasure.
“We’re very pleased that four of the six alternative cycling projects have been approved by the DfT and that over £2m of the cycle funding will be spent locally.
“We’re obviously disappointed that two of the projects were not given the go-ahead but we respect the DfT’s decision.
“We believe the revised programme of cycling projects will encourage more people to choose the bicycle rather than the car as a mode of transport.
“That in itself will help improve people’s health and reduce congestion and carbon emissions, helping to protect the fragile and internationally-important landscapes of the National Park,” he concluded.
Roger Geffen, campaigns and policy director at national cyclists' charity CTC, which had criticsed some of the proposed spending, said:“Given how the New Forest authorities were planning to mis-use the Government’s cycling grant, it is regrettable but right that the Government should now withdraw it.
"With the consultation now closing on the Government’s ‘Cycling Delivery Plan’ , this shows exactly why we need long-term ‘funding for cycling’, not rushed projects when Ministers suddenly find a bit of spare change.
“Meanwhile, CTC hopes this money will now be sensibly reinvested in well-planned cycling projects, not disappear into the black hole of the Treasury.”
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