Horse riders in Hampshire have expressed their outrage at plans to resurface a bridleway to allow access for cyclists, disabled people, and children.
The permissive bridleway along the Old Meon Valley disused railway line has been used as a horse riding route for more than five decades, but now planners intend to make the 10 mile route useful to other users.
South Downs National Park and Hampshire County Council intend to upgrade the path in a £310,000 project which will see the park closed for several months while work takes place.
A local livery yard owner Kathryn Montague has set up a Facebook group named “Save Our Bridleway — Meon Valley Disused Railway Line” - and both cyclists and horse riders have registered their objections.
Mrs Montague told Horse and Hound: “Riders and cyclists have used the disused railway line for years and it is totally unnecessary to spend thousands on resurfacing it.
“The path is perfect for a trot or canter, but we’ve now been told we should only be walking.”
She added that disabled people would be unlikely to use it as there was no nearby parking.
David Deane, joint cycling projects officer for the South Downs National Park Authority and HCC, said: “The trail is in desperate need on an upgrade, with overgrown trees on steep embankments that are prone to collapse in high winds and a muddy surface that rarely dries out,” he said.
Mark Weston, director of access at the British Horse Society, said: “This truly is a multi-user route and, in partnership with the South Downs National Park Authority, HCC is repairing the surface to accommodate other users.”
He added “as far as we are aware there are no proposals to tarmac any sections of the route”.
Horse riders in Hampshire have often found themselves pitted against cyclists in recent years.
Earlier this year we reported how New Forest MPs have once again called for statutory regulation of sportives — and it appears that cycle sports's national governing body, British Cycling, agrees.
The New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA) has approved a cycling events framework that includes a 1000-rider limit on rides in the forest. Representatives of cycling bodies strongly opposed this move, and the only event organiser to have run events on this scale in the park has said he will not comply.
Faced with that opposition New Forest East MP Julian Lewis and fellow Tory Desmond Swayne, MP for New Forest West, say they will press for legal restrictions on sportives.
Mr Swayne told the Southern Daily Echo: "The charter is a step in the right direction but it’s voluntary.
“A limit on numbers is an important element. That is why we will continue to try to get enforceable regulations.”
And last year the New Forest National Park Authority decided not to go ahead with the planned implementation of a 'Boris Bike' style network of hire bikes. Had the project gone ahead it would have been the UK's first rural hire bike system.
In a statement, the authority said that its 12 members were concerned about the system's financial sustainability and believed that "the likelihood of the system receiving significant sponsorship had markedly reduced since it was originally conceived".
Just previously, UK Cycling Events, the organiser of two annual sportives in the New Forest, found a new base for the rides to put them out of the reach of New Forest NIMBYs.
Vociferous criticism from a small number of New Forest residents and councillors last year led UK Cycling Events to look for a new venue for the start of the ride.
There have been attempts to sabotage the rides, including tacks being dumped on the routes and signs being torn down.
After talking to other venues, including Gang Warily recreation centre in Blackfield, the rides will now start at Matchams Leisure Park, just outside the western edge of the New Forest and across the River Avon in Dorset.
After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.