This excellent blog post on the New Forest Green Party website highlights a number of longstanding issues to the approach the New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA) takes to cycling in the National Park. It’s well worth a read.
There are at least two very positive ways the NFNPA could improve the cycling ‘infrastructure’ in the New Forest, that would be of real benefit to cyclists, be good for business and be a big PR win for the NFNPA.
It would be a win for everyone.
Firstly, the NFNPA needs to work proactively with the Forestry Commission (FC) towards opening up the other 200 miles of gravel tracks to cyclists. In case you don’t know, there are just over 300 miles of gravel tracks, criss-crossing the New Forest National Park that make it possible for Forestry Commission vehicles to access the forest. It’s important to understand that walkers, horse-riders and FC vehicles can legitimately use all 300 miles of the gravel track network, yet cyclists can only use a dis-jointed 100 mile sub-network of way-marked tracks. There is no reasonable or logical reason why the access afforded to walkers, horse-riders and ‘logging lorries’ cannot be extended to cyclists (the argument that a cyclist might ‘disturb wildlife’ doesn’t hold – at least not whilst a dog, horse or JCB can roam freely!). This issue was highlighted in the 2008 Hampshire County Council Countryside Action Plan which states: “Cyclists are particularly affected by the need to use the road network to link up off-road access, as they do not have the rights of access enjoyed by walkers and riders in the Open Forest.” It’s about time access to the full 300 mile gravel track network is addressed properly.
With approved cycle access to the 300 mile gravel track network, the NFNPA would be in the position of being able to genuinely promote the New Forest as a cyclist friendly destination. Additionally, the knock on effects of this would result in a meaningful boost to tourism – the bedrock of the New Forest economy. Furthermore, it would become possible to traverse the Forest with minimal use of roads. You never know, this could result in fewer cars as more people would be on their bicycles. In essence it would be a win for everyone!
Secondly, the NFNPA needs to improve the on-road situation for cyclists. A map highlighting ‘cycle friendly’ on-road routes is of little use when these particular roads have little to no discernible benefit to a cyclist over any other road in the forest.
We don’t need, want or deserve a discombobulated approach to cycling here in the New Forest. It’s time the NFNPA did the right thing.