THE future of a controversial £400,000 scheme to resurface 10 miles of bridleway is hanging in the balance.
Almost 200 people attended a meeting last night to discuss resurfacing work on the old Meon Valley railway line between Wickham and West Meon which has angered horse riders, cyclists, dog walkers and runners.
They say the work which started in September will threaten wildlife and make it difficult to cycle, run, walk or ride horses on because the chosen surface includes sharp stones and large lumps of metal.
Represent-atives from Hampshire County Council and the South Downs National Park, who are leading the project, said at a meeting attended by more than 180 people in Wickham last night, that the surface will be better once it has been completed and had time to weather.
Now work has been halted for the second time in a month after campaigners said that was not good enough.
Hampshire County Council and the South Downs National Park Authority’s £380,000 scheme aims to update the surface for the first time since the railway track was removed 50 years ago in the hope it will make the path better for all users.
The project, which is part of a £5m investment in cycling routes around the South Downs will allow car-free access straight into the heart of the national park through a valley rich with history dating back to Saxon times.
But people who already use the bridleway say the surface is not suitable and it will urbanise the route.
They have launched a social media campaign and launched an online petition against it which has been signed by 1,150 people.
Work was halted last week while council bosses looked at the surface only to be started again on Monday.
Now work has been halted once more while campaigners work with the authorities to discuss their next steps.
Ahead of last night’s meeting council roads boss Cllr Seàn Woodward vowed the work would be finished. He said: “What I have asked the officers is whether we can come up with a compromise by having areas at the side which would be soil to give room for the horses to move.
“The whole scheme is undoubtedly more for walkers and cyclists but my concern is that the surface is suitable for horse riders.
“With this surface my feeling was that it’s much harder and you wouldn’t want to ride a horse on it.”