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."
*Makes objectively untrue statement about someone on website where that person has support*...
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