A council has condemned the “unwarranted and wholly unacceptable” actions of a “vocal minority”, after a group of campaigners opposed to the creation of mountain bike facilities on the grounds of a former golf course allegedly confronted and intimidated contractors working on the trails.
Last Tuesday, police were called to Newbold Comyn country park, on the outskirts of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, following an alleged altercation between locals and contractors, which Warwick District Council has described as an “unlawful” attempt by activists to accuse those working on the cycle trails of wrongdoing and to “impose their will against the wishes of the wider community”.
However, the protesters have claimed that the council’s version of events is “damaging and misleading”, and that the local authority is seeking to “silence and intimidate” them.
The construction of beginner-friendly cycle trails at the 300-acre Newbold Comyn – which the council hopes will provide an opportunity for families and children to learn to ride their bikes in a safe environment – forms part of the authority’s ‘masterplan’ for the site, the home of a former golf course which closed in 2017.
The trails – the construction of which was partly financed by grants from Sport England and British Cycling through the Places to Ride fund, and which will be completed next month – were originally intended to extend across the entirety of the former golf course’s grounds.
However, following a series of public consultations, the plans were changed to situate the trails in one half of the park, leaving the other half free for the site’s other users.
Nevertheless, since the ‘masterplan’ was first proposed in 2020, the family-friendly cycling facilities have come under fire from locals who claim that the “plans favour cyclists over all the other users of the old golf course”.
The Friends of Newbold Comyn, a local campaign group opposed to the plans, said in 2021 that the park was “a shared space and we feel no need for that to change”, and that other residents were “dismayed” at the proposed cycle trails.
— Pongo232 (@Rusticman232) February 16, 2023
Tensions seem to have come to a head last week, when a group of protesters allegedly intimidated contractors working on the completion of the trails.
Warwickshire Police says that officers were called to the site last Tuesday morning, but that no offences were recorded.
However, Andrew Day, the leader of Warwick District Council, accused the protesters of “unlawful actions” and “seeking to intimidate” workers.
“It is regrettable that the actions of a vocal minority, who are seeking to intimidate our contractors working to create the Newbold Comyn cycle trails, has caused personal concern and undue stress,” Day said in a statement.
“It saddens me that some feel it is appropriate to take matters into their own hands, and to resort to unlawful actions in an attempt to impose their will against the wishes of the wider community. This behaviour is unwarranted and wholly unacceptable. Our contractors and staff should be free to carry out their duties unfettered, without fear or intimidation.”
In response, Katie Pittel, from The Friends of Newbold Comyn group, told the BBC that the “inflammatory language” used by the councillor was “a deliberate ploy to silence and intimidate people who have spoken out”.
Pittel also said that the residents’ group was calling for an immediate half to work on the site, which she said was “more intrusive and damaging to the landscape than we could ever have imagined”.
Warwick District Council is developing and commercialising Newbold Comyn in Leamington Spa against the wishes of the community.
The MTB trails are more intrusive and damaging to the landscape than we could ever have imagined.
Please sign the petition:https://t.co/ikHZlsRqVj pic.twitter.com/YAdusJEZm5
— Margaret Simpson (@Teragramms) February 8, 2023
However, in his statement, Day noted that the construction of the trails was agreed upon following “extensive public consultation” and a “comprehensive” planning approval process, which was conducted in the public domain. He also pointed out that the council is continuing to work closely with the local planning authority as the trails are constructed, “in accordance with ongoing expert archaeological and ecological advice”.
“To accuse our contractors of wrongdoing and to seek to personally intimidate them when going out about their business, is of serious concern,” he continued.
“I would like to thank officers from Warwickshire Police for their swift response in dealing with this matter and for confirming that immediate action will be taken should this unacceptable behaviour reoccur.
“I can assure residents that the attempt by a vocal minority to intimidate our contractors and council officers will not divert efforts to implement the agreed Newbold Comyn Masterplan in full, for the benefit of all.”
Newbold Comyn isn’t the only planned cycling facility set to be built on the grounds of a former golf course to attract the ire of furious residents in recent months.
Bath Bike Park, a proposed 30-acre facility situated on the grounds of the city’s former Entry Hill golf course, was set to feature five kilometres of purpose-built mountain bike trails, a pump track, skills and learn to ride areas, a bike shop and coaching services, as well as free-to-access walking, running, and family cycling paths.
The plans received widespread support from residents, though local golfers had previously led a campaign to save the two loss-making golf courses at Entry Hill after Bath and North East Somerset Council revealed that each round played cost taxpayers £8.
One golfer complained that the first public consultation on the future of the site was taken over by a ‘cycling lobby on steroids’ after 78 percent of respondents expressed support for turning it into a cycling centre.
However, despite this support, the park’s construction faced a number of challenges in recent years, sparking almost constant delays, until Bath and North East Somerset Council finally confirmed in December that the plans had been abandoned altogether due to rising costs after a funding bid failed, and that the site would remain as it is “for the short term”.
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.