IT is a row that is pitching cyclists against the humble newt.

Council chiefs have unveiled a £40,000 plan to protect a key habitat for the aquatic creatures, famously loved by former London mayor Ken Livingstone.

That involves a new pipeline to supply clean water to the boating lake on Southampton Common, one of the main breeding sites of the great crested newt.

But the scheme has come under fire from cycling campaigners because it would mean narrowing a frequently used underpass that helps riders, pedestrians and dog walkers get across The Avenue safely.

They have argued that narrowing the underpass by 70 centimetres, or just under 28 inches, will cause more accidents.
Southampton Cycling Campaign spokesman Dilys Gartside said: “I feel this is a huge problem.

The underpass is one of the most used cycling areas in our city. Thousands of people use it and these include students from Tauntons College, King Edward VI School and Southampton University as well as cyclists and dog walkers.

“This is not the place to put a narrowing pipe. One must remember that the protection of human beings is equally as important as the protection of wildlife.

“The council has it in its Local Transport Policy to improve cycling routes in Southampton and says it is council policy to improve cycling and walking and active travel around the city; this goes against that.”

Dilys, who lives in Shirley, is concerned that her group was not even consulted by the council about the proposal and added: “We want to work with the council to find a better way of doing this.”

Highfield Residents’ Association committee member Simon Hill is also unhappy with the plans.

He said: “The cyclists that use the tunnel go faster down it to gain momentum down the tunnel. Currently it is just about okay, but to narrow it would be unacceptable. This is right at the centre of a point of movement.

“I feel that it would be potentially very dangerous with the different users that use the underpass, and this will be more oppressive in terms of personal safety. There is just about room for two cyclists to pass and if there is a pedestrian on the path then you have just got about the minimum space to do it.”

Great crested newts are fully protected under UK and European law, and the council has to carry out work to protect them.

The proposal is to run a 450-millimetre water supply pipe through underpass will provide clean water to the boating lake where the newts are threatened by “salty” water that runs off The Avenue.

A spokesman for Southampton City Council said: “The subway option would require a marginal narrowing of its width and some residents have raised concerns as to whether this will make the subway difficult to use.

“We are still evaluating the different options and will take the comments received into consideration when deciding which option to implement.”