A CONTROVERSIAL public bike scheme for the New Forest has been scrapped despite support from professional cyclists and a 2,000-signature petition in its favour.
The New Forest National Park Authority did a “massive U-turn” yesterday when it decided not to proceed with the controversial £2m Boris Bikes-style project.
Members of the authority voting against the plans argued that it was not financially viable due to a spending deadline of March 2015.
But they also pointed to an increasing anti-cycling sentiment across the area which follows repeated problems involving organised mass cycling events.
The meeting heard how a task and finish group set up by the authority met three times and collected public feedback, contacted businesses and produced a map of the proposed scheme before concluding the plans should be dropped.
But member David Harrison, who is also a Hampshire County Councillor, spoke at length to set out his support for the scheme.
He said: “We have a duty to encourage use of forms of transport that could ease congestion and help promote healthy lifestyles and this would be a significant step in the right direction.
“The only real risks are that we back out and we let down the Government, and we pass up a rare opportunity to get £2m that we will never see again.
“Those that argue that cycling is unpopular in the New Forest are just wrong.”
Last year the Department for Transport awarded the New Forest NPA £3.57m total funding to support family cycling.
Plans were drawn up for a system involving 250 bikes being available for hire at 20 locations, and initial interest showed that 11 out of 12 businesses contacted wanted to be part of it.
A 2,100-strong petition in favour of the scheme was given public support by British Olympic gold-winning cyclist Chris Boardman, but this failed to sway members.
At the meeting there were concerns voiced over potential financial problems given Barclay’s announcement in December that it would no longer sponsor the bike scheme in London.
Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, who chaired the meeting and proposed the recommendation that the scheme be discontinued, said: “It’s about whether this particular project has a chance of success and that rests on whether it has a financial chance of success.
“Let’s not forget it will be run as a business and if it fails it will fail quite quickly, so we have to be sure that the figures stack up.”
Following the decision the Campaign for National Parks, a charity dedicated to campaigning to protect and promote national parks, issued a statement saying it was “really disappointed” at the move.
It said: “We’re aware of local concerns about mass bike rides but these should not have been allowed to influence decisions on a scheme which is aimed at encouraging a completely different type of cycling.”