The board of the New Forest National Park Authority today voted to approve the New Forest Cycling Events Charter drawn up by its Cycling Liaison Group, despite the opposition of cycling event organisers and groups to two major aspects of the charter.
The sticking point in what was intended to be a set of guidelines that organisers would voluntarily follow, was the requirement that cycling events in the forest should be limited to 1000 riders and that riders should wear identifying numbers front and back.
A letter from local representatives of CTC, Sustrans and British Cycling described that provision as “discriminatory and disproportionate”, while UK Cycling Events, the only body that has run events in the forest with more than 1,000 riders, opposed the limit.
Martin Barden who runs UK Cycling Events told road.cc that his company would not be following the recommendation for a 1,000 rider limit. Instead, he said, UK Cycling Events would continue to work with the district council's Safety Advisory Group to safely run its events.
According to an attendee of the meeting, who spoke to road.cc on condition of anonimity, it was characterised by a "complete lack of considered discussion by members".
Our source said the meeting voted to amend the (already-approved) minutes of its June 2014 meeting to resolve that:
1) The NPA will only support the draft Charter if it is amended to include cap of 1000 cyclists and to require that rides wear rear numbers and
2) If the Charter is not adhered to … the NPA will look to persuade the Government to change legislation so that local authorities will have control over the events.
An amendment was tabled proposing that the Safety Advisory Group should determine any limit on an event on a case by case basis.
Totton councillor David Harrison spoke in support of that and other amendments proposed by cycling organisations, but only he and two others — John Pemberton and Marian Spain, both Secretary of State appointees to the NFNPA — supported the amendment, with 17 against.
Despite rejecting an amendment that would put the Safety Advisory Group at the centre of regulating sportives in the New Forest, NFNPA members claimed that safety was paramount in their minds.
As Forest Cyclist pointed out in his open letter yesterday, "the NFNPA has produced absolutely no tangible independent evidence as to why the cap is needed" and Freedom of Information requests have failed to turn up evidence of incidents connected to cycle sportives in the New Forest.
Following the NFNPA's decision to approve the charter, CTC Campaigns Coordinator Sam Jones said: “The cap in cycling numbers, which the Park Authority mandated to be included in the Charter, was loosely justified on safety grounds.
"It is therefore mystifying and incredibly frustrating that our amendment which placed the Safety Advisory Group at the very heart of decision making for each and every cycle event was rejected.
"Instead, an arbitrary and discriminatory cap with no foundation in evidence will be implemented."
While the charter is currently voluntary, and the NFNPA has no statutory authority of any kind to enforce it, its members are determined the rider limit should be imposed.
The Bournemouth Echo reports that during the meeting, NPA member Maureen Holding, said: “If this doesn't work we should call in the MP and pursue rules and regulations that are enforceable.
“We want safety in our forest and we want everyone to be able to enjoy the area, not just cyclists.”
Our source at the meeting reports that Ms Holding said she believed a limit of 500 would be more appropriate, perhaps indicating that the 1,000-rider limit is just the thin end of the wedge — once in place the NFNPA can easily vote to reduce it.
David Harrison accused the authority of “victimising” cyclists, according to the Echo.
He said: “We are making a serious misjudgement by digging in our heels and preventing us having a charter that cyclists will sign up to.”
Cllr Harrison later told road.cc that the NFNPA's attitude to cycling was "baffling".
He added: "All I can offer is that some influential people have been lobbied by a very small minority of people who have ever experienced any problem with large scale cycling events.
"The internal politics of the New Forest is often hard to work out. It's very Conservative and strongly resistant to change of any kind."
We understand that Nigel Matthews, head of recreation management and learning for the park, said the Safety Advisory Group would "find it difficult to ignore" the charter given that it is supported by public bodies.
That will put the Safety Advisory Group in the interesting position of having to justify moving from approving events with over 2,000 riders as recently as last October to only approving events with less than half that number.
CTC's Sam Jones added: “This seems like a total rejection of cycle groups’ willingness to engage and work with the NFNPA and those who in live in the New Forest towards an amicable solution, and CTC will now consider what steps we can take next.”
Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.