The New Forest National Park has attracted the condemnation of cyclists after scrapping a proposed cycle hire scheme – amid accusations of “NIMBYism”.
The scheme, announced earlier this year, would have seen 20 docking stations and up to 300 bikes available across the picturesque South Coast area. The docks would have been located near bus stations, railway stations, in towns and at tourist attractions.
But an extraordinary meeting of the New Forest National Park Authority today saw the scheme thrown out, after an officers’ report recommended that the project be abandoned. The report by John Lynn, Cycling Projects Manager for the National Park, argued:
“The likelihood of any significant sponsorship being available to the New Forest system has markedly reduced. In the New Forest a major anti-cycling sentiment has come to the fore in the wake of large-scale cycle sportive events which have impacted on local people. A fresh wave of concern exists about the safety of on-road cycling.
“Concerns about safety featured prominently in the responses to the recent questionnaire about the proposed scheme, especially amongst those who live and work in the Forest. Members therefore questioned whether the time was right to introduce more cyclists onto New Forest roads.”
Councillors speaking at the meeting were reported on Twitter as saying “I don’t cycle and I don’t want to cycle”, and “I don't like cycle sportives, I got caught up in the one weekend just gone!”.
With such attitudes, it was no surprise that 12 councillors voted for the scheme to be scrapped and only two for it to go ahead, with three abstentions.
The campaign to save the scheme had attracted high-profile support from the former Olympic cyclist and bike advocate, Chris Boardman; long-serving pro rider Jens Voigt; and cycling campaigners from across Britain.
Nor was opposition to the scheme universal in the New Forest – with the Parish Council for Brockenhurst, the major village in the centre of the Forest, offering general support to a hire scheme, but only after an “expansion of the [local cycling] network to enable and ensure safe, family friendly, recreational cycling”.
But although an online petition garnered over 2,000 signatures in support of the scheme, councillors said that they considered the views of locals more important.
The scheme would have largely been funded by central Government, which awarded cycle funding to four National Parks. Dartmoor, the South Downs and the Peak District are still expecting to go ahead with their plans.
Update: In a statement, the National Park Authority has restated its doubts about obtaining sponsorship, and cited “a lack of strong support for the scheme among local residents”. However, the survey results published by the authority draw no such conclusion, and merely state that there was “a wide range of views amongst the respondents”.
According to Chairman Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre:
“As members we have scrutinised it very carefully, and concluded that the risks of setting up the scheme now outweigh the benefits. We felt we simply could not justify spending a considerable amount of government money on a system that might not be able to survive at this time, and which seems to have insufficient support in the key locations of the Forest where it needs to operate from.”
The NPA says it will now “support alternative cycling projects with the funding previously allocated for the public bike system”. Given that one of the reasons for cancelling the bike hire project was that a “challenging delivery timetable for the project, by March 2015”, it is unclear what projects the Authority believes it will be able to start, and complete, within the same time.