New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA) board member David Harrison has come out strongly against a proposed cap on rider numbers in cycling events in the park.
A limit of 1000 riders in popular sportive events such as the Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive and New Forest 100 has been proposed as part of a cycling events charter laid out by the authority's Cycling Liaison Group.
But Councillor David Harrison says the cap would not work.
On his Facebook page, Cllr Harrison, the Lid-Dem representative for Totton South and Marchwood writes: "Can you imagine what a fuss would be kicked up in the New Forest National Park Authority proposed a cap on the number of cars allowed to enter the New Forest area?"
NFNPA has no power to set such a limit on cars, or on cyclists for that matter. Nor, Harrison points out does Hampshire County Council, the highways authority.
The area's MP, Dr Julian Lewis (tipped by the Daily Mirror as one of the top 11 Tory MPs likely to defect to UKIP) has been lobbying for changes in the law to limit sportives. Harrison says that lobbying is "quite rightly falling on deaf ears as far as the coalition government are concerned."
He writes: "By any reasonable assessment, cars are much more of a problem on New Forest roads than cycles, whether you are talking about pollution, animal deaths and injuries, or congestion.
"It is therefore no surprise to me that cycling groups are resisting pressure to sign a revised cycling charter that includes a cap on the numbers of cyclists taking part in organised events."
The proposed limit has not been widely publicised. The most recently available version of the draft charter makes no mention of a limit, but minutes of a recent meeting of the park's Resources, Audit and Performance Committee say:
"The Authority’s decision in June to include within the Charter for Cycle Event Organisers a cap of 1,000 riders and a requirement for riders to wear rear identification numbers has prompted a mixed reaction from organisations represented on the Cycling Liaison Group. We are awaiting confirmation of support from key statutory organisations for the revised wording."
That would seem to go against the decision — or rather lack of one — of the Cycling Liaison Group in April. The minutes of that meeting read: "Nigel [Matthews, chair of the New Forest National Park Authority] advised that he had received very few responses from the Group as to whether there should be a restriction on the maximum numbers in the Charter – and amongst these there was no consensus."
Road.cc understands that 'mixed reaction' is euphemistic at best. Cycling representatives on the liaison group are opposed to the cap, but they make up only a minority of the group. Of the 26 members, only seven represent cycling organisations or business
Harrison says those opposed to large cycling events in the park, and to the introduction of a rural 'Boris Bike' scheme are unable to provide evidence that cycling in the park is actually a problem.
He writes: "When cyclists have asked for evidence that large numbers of cyclists cause problems over and above say, car usage, the authorities can't deliver.
"This chimes very much with what some members of the National Park Authority claimed when abandoning the rural bike hire scheme. They claimed there was strong evidence of local "anti cycling sentiment". In fact, even the NPA surveys showed the reverse was true. Most local people wanted the bike hire scheme to be implemented. Instead, a large chunk of money will now go back to central government."
And it's not just the investment in the hire scheme that has been lost thanks to the NFNPA's opposition to cycling. Since Wiggle sportive organiser UK Cycling Events was forced to move its event HQ out of the park boundaries to Matchams, B&B's, hotels, and restaurants in the Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst areas say takings on event weekends are down as much as 30%.
Harrison thinks the events charter will never make it out of draft form.
He writes: "Recent sportive events have been enjoyed by hundreds of people. Local businesses are fans of cyclists, not least because they spend more locally than other visitors do.
It's in the interests of the organisers to abide by the charter, as drafted. I don't think they should agree to a cap on numbers. They have already shown that events can take place and be enjoyed without conflict, without restrictions being artificially imposed by authorities without due cause to do so."
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