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Lone New Forest councillor hits out at authority's "dubious" cycling schemes

David Harrison says he's unhappy about lack of consultation, resurfacing and outside park ideas...

The New Forest National Park Association (NFNPA) yesterday voted to submit to the Department for Transport (DfT) a set of proposals for ways it should be allowed to spend some of the £3.7 million it has been granted for cycling. It turns out only one member of the committee had doubts about the idea, Councillor David Harrison.

A Liberal Democrat, Harrison represents Totton South and Marchwood on Hampshire County Council. On his Facebook page, Harrison gives a fascinating insight into the workings of the national park's governing cabal as it decided how to spend money originally awarded by the DfT for a hire bike system and a family cycling hub.

Harrison writes: "Not for the first time, I found myself a lone voice on the New Forest National Park Authority."

The issue he says he couldn't get his colleagues to understand is that a public body like the NFNPA has a responsibility to ensure it follows due process before spending government money - and that means public consultation.

"A publicly funded body (the NPA), spending public money (£2 million of government cash), should follow proper procedure and tell the public what it proposes to do and invite them to comment and raise any concerns," he writes.

Harrison describes the creation of the plans to spend some of the DfT grant as "a very mad rush to put together a varied collection of other schemes, aimed at ensuring the money is spent in this part of the country before the deadline expires".

According to Harrison, the vote to approve the expenditure - dubbed Plan B by local riders - was not on the meeting's agenda, but was covered by "Any other items that the Chairman decides are urgent". The proposals had only just been posted on the NFNPA website, so neither committee members nor the public had a shance to study them.

Harrison writes: "Members dismissed my concerns, saying that local people knew all about them and were supportive. When it was put to a vote, I was the only one against."

While he approves of some of the ideas in Plan B, Harrison says he thinks others have "rather dubious merit". He singled out the two most controversial aspects for criticism.

"The proposed Rhinefield scheme looks very much like resurfacing the road, saving Hampshire County Council the expense, rather than a transformation towards family friendly cycling, especially since I now understand there will be no road widening permitted.

Similarly, whilst it would be nice to see investment in Moors Valley country park to improve facilities for cycling, it isn't within the boundaries of the park and doesn't improve access to it (in the same way as the Totton to Marchwood link does). I would argue that it benefits the New Forest by encouraging cyclists away from the more sensitive areas of the New Forest, but this isn't why I understand the money was allocated to us and others may have better ideas for other schemes that promote family friendly cycling in the New Forest proper."

One point Harrison doesn't mention making to his colleagues, but perhaps he should have is that DEFRA guidelines for the conduct of members of national park governing bodies says:

All Authority members, no matter how they are appointed, have a primary responsibility to seek to ensure that the Authority furthers the statutory Park purposes … They should regard themselves first and foremost as members of the Authority, with a duty to act in the best interests of the Authority and of the Park, rather than as representatives of any interest group.

NFNPA officers now have to meet with DfT officials and persuade them that instead of a very specific cycling scheme in the New Forest, it should be allowed to spend money resurfacing roads and encouraging people ro ride outside the park. 

Harrison adds: "I wish them luck."

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.

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