The New Forest was on course to become the first rural location to run a bike hire scheme. However, in August the New Forest National Park Authority members voted not to go through with the scheme. The plan was to operate up to 250 self service style hire bikes located at 20 docking stations around the forest. Despite the high profile backing of Sir Chris Hoy, it was deemed that the scheme would not make enough money or receive sufficient backing of local residents.
We concluded that the risks of setting up the scheme now outweigh the benefits. – Chairman of the authority, Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre
Such strong pressure from some local residents has put the brakes on the scheme that could have heralded the start of a new era of safer, more sustainable transport in the Forest. Unless the NPA can obtain the authority to use the allocated funds on other schemes, the cancellation of the cycle hire scheme will mean that around £2million of government funding will need to be returned.
The impression given is that the New Forest in general is against cycling. However, we do not believe this to be the case, but convincing people outside the confines of the Forest that this is a fantastic place to ride a bike is becoming a harder sell.
Being against a family-friendly cycle hire scheme because of recent mass cycling races is absurd. – Ralph Smyth, Senior Transport Campaigner
Below is the statement from the New Forest National Park Authority:
New Forest National Park Authority members have voted not to proceed with a project to develop the UK’s first rural public bike system within the New Forest.
This self-service bike hire system would have comprised up to 250 one size fits all bikes for public hire at 20 unmanned locations in the south east of the National Park.
Members were concerned about the financial sustainability of the £2m public bike system. They considered that the likelihood of the system receiving significant sponsorship had markedly reduced since it was originally conceived, given that similar recent schemes in Liverpool and Reading have launched without major sponsors.
Concern was also expressed about the mixed results of a recent community feedback survey, which showed a lack of strong support for the scheme among local residents. Members felt there was a real risk that suitable docking station sites would not be supported at key locations, making it difficult to set up a viable network. The results of the survey are available at www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/bikesurvey.
Given the challenging delivery timetable for the project, by March 2015, it was felt there was insufficient time remaining to overcome these issues.
The National Park Authority now intends to support alternative cycling projects with the funding previously allocated for the public bike system.
Members underlined their commitment to supporting responsible family cycling in the National Park, in particular as a key mode of transport for people to get around the Forest for work or pleasure, and as a way to enjoy its special qualities without a car.
National Park Authority Chairman, Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre said: ‘This would have been an innovative project that had clear benefits to offer those wishing to use bicycles for quiet recreation and travelling around the Forest, rather than using their cars.
‘However as members we have scrutinised it very carefully, and concluded that the risks of setting up the scheme now outweigh the benefits. We felt we simply could not justify spending a considerable amount of government money on a system that might not be able to survive at this time, and which seems to have insufficient support in the key locations of the Forest where it needs to operate from.’
The public bike system was part of the New Forest Family Cycling Experiences programme. The programme is funded by a £3.57m grant from the Department for Transport and will continue to invest in other local cycling projects through:
- Supporting Hampshire County Council to deliver infrastructure schemes in and around the National Park this year to improve safety and access for cyclists
- Funding community groups and businesses to develop their own cycling facilities through the Sustainable Communities Fund. Further details at www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/scf.
Minutes of the meeting will be available in due course at www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/meetings.