Cancelled hire bike scheme is 'tip of the iceberg' according to transport campaigner

The New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA) may spend just 15% of its £3.57m government funding on schemes criticised for being “neither innovative nor likely to use up all the funds awarded”.

After the Park’s £2m “Boris Bike” scheme was abandoned in August, partly due to lack of local support, Local Transport Today magazine discovered two of the other projects in the original bid will not be delivered as originally planned either.

A NFNPA spokesperson said £381,000 has been allocated to local cycle businesses, part of a £500,000 grant scheme, with money going towards improving existing cycle paths and signage.

Ralph Smyth, Senior Transport Campaigner at The Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “The cancelled cycle hire scheme is just the tip of the ice berg. The New Forest has a chronic problem with failing to deliver on cycling schemes it won competitive funding for.

“It’s just as unfair for local cyclists as it is for other local authorities that were deprived of funding. The alternative schemes proposed are neither innovative nor are they likely to use up all the funds awarded. This is far from the end of this sorry story.”

The money must still be spent by the original deadline of March 2015, or be handed back to the Department for Transport.

The NFNPA still plans for “a series of infrastructure projects at Brockenhurst” after private sector funding apparently fell through for £1.3m of the £1.6m family cycle centre beside Brockenhurst Station. This would have been the cycle hire scheme’s main base, with a visitor centre and luggage transfer by electric van for visitors arriving by train, and cycling to their hotel or campsite. A fleet of 12 pedal buses carrying eight passengers each, possibly the first of its kind in the world, will now not run on public highways due to “legal and operational challenges”, according to LTT.

Sion Donovan, NFNPA Communications Officer, told CW: “Following the decision not to proceed with the New Forest Public Bike System on 19 August, the New Forest National Park Authority is now developing alternative cycling projects which continue to deliver the outcomes of the New Forest Family Cycling Experiences (NFFCE) programme.

“We are currently meeting with a range of partners and the Department for Transport to discuss the revised programme, which will focus on improving routes in and immediately surrounding the National Park to benefit a wide number of cyclists and improve safety.”

This includes upgrading a cycle path between Lyndhurst and Ashurst with tarmac, and improving links between Totton and Ashurst, as well as a £50,000 signage project.
The park’s grant scheme has awarded £381,000 to 13 local businesses including expanding a local fleet of inclusive bikes, children’s bike hire and installing bike racks in villages.

A Sustrans spokesperson said they were reluctant to comment while in talks with the New Forest, but said the most important thing is that the money is spent on cycling, rather than being sent back to the DfT.

A decision is expected from the NFNPA in the coming weeks.