John Jackson organises the much loved and very popular Gridiron 100 cycle event that has taken place in the New Forest for the last 23 years. John was the only member of the public to raise issues and present evidence at the New Forest National Park Authority Members meeting to ‘discuss’ the new Cycle Event’s Organisers Charter.
The new charter does not just concern larger sportive organisers, such as UK Cycling Events (Wiggle), but it is a matter that all cyclists in the New Forest should be informed and concerned about.
John has written an open letter to the Authority Membership regarding his experience which is re-produced in full below. It gives an accurate and enlightening insight into how a key decision in the New Forest was arrived at.
New Forest National Park Authority
Lymington Town Hall
Re: New Forest Cycling Charter
I hope you are interested in the observations of a local resident, first time observer and contributor to your meeting, particularly regarding the ‘Cycling Charter’. I was not surprised by your decision regarding the Charter but I was quite shocked by the total absence of discussion. As it stands, your charter will antagonise cyclists and not be of advantage to anyone, the code is advisory, nobody has to comply – you need to bring everyone along with you and that includes cyclists, many of whom are also residents and your constituents.
I have lived in Sway for over 21 years, brought up two children, owned two ponies and been actively involved in charitable and voluntary organisations throughout that period – I‘m not an outsider, the New Forest is my home. We are also a cycling family and I organise the ‘Gridiron 100’, an annual 100k road cycling event, run by local volunteers. 2015 will be its 23rd running and, in earlier years, we have had up to 1,300 entrants. In October Sue Westwood, clerk to the Verderers, emailed me and included “your event is so well organised and your participants are so polite and responsible that it hasn’t been a problem!” Three years ago I decided, without being asked or under any outside pressure, to limit the entry to 1,000. This was not done to due to any problems on the road but the ability of our volunteers, local WI’s and village halls to cope with the numbers at the start, intermediary controls and finish, where they provide refreshments.
Not one of you asked a question or sought clarification.
I was the only member of the public to raise issues at your meeting and provide evidence but not one of you asked a question or sought clarification. A subsequent proposal to amend the Charter, from Member David Harrison, was very welcome but again there was NO discussion, it simply went straight to a vote. The letter to you from the three national cycling organisations: British Cycling, CTC, & Sustrans was only received a few days before the meeting. It was not even commented on – did you discuss and consider it prior to the meeting?
I was also puzzled by the summing up by your chairman, Mr Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre:
- he said he wanted self-regulation. Isn’t that what you have successfully had from the Gridiron for the past 22 years? It is run under the regulations of the CTC (formed in 1878) and adheres to the Highway Code, the Countryside Code and the NF Cycling Code. I have positively engaged with the SAG, met and discussed with representatives from Parish Councils and Commoners. The success of our past ‘self-regulation’ can be measured by the lack of any previous issues or complaints.
- he claimed that the focus was on safety but if that was really the case, you would have agreed to the numbers for each event being set by the SAG, which the three national cycling bodies recommended. An arbitrary figure is NOT the basis of a safe event. And, I am obviously concerned at Councillor Maureen Holding’s statement that in her opinion “500 is more than enough”. If an arbitrary figure of 1,000 is decided upon now without any evidence and the SAG and the three national cycling bodies disregarded, what is to stop an arbitrary cap of 500 or less in the future? There is an unhealthy anti-cycle sentiment in the New Forest, it is only shared by a minority but a very vocal minority. Limits on our freedom should not be taken lightly.
I am sad to say that what I observed was not what I was expecting of a public meeting in a modern democracy.
It’s about “inconvenience to other road users” namely motorists.
The Cycling Charter is clearly aimed at one commercial event (the Wiggle Sportives), but it unfairly impacts all others. Last minute revisions of the Charter document show that the changes are to placate “concerns from some local people” not the NPA, nor the police. It isn’t about impacts on the forest, danger to livestock, pets or children; it’s about “inconvenience to other road users” namely motorists. My family are all motorists and, whilst none of us appreciate traffic congestion, the New Forest Show causes considerably more inconvenience to road users. Will you also be suggesting we apply a 1,000 cap to that or other events that cause congestion in the forest, e.g. Beaulieu?
Will you also be suggesting we apply a 1,000 cap to that or other events that cause congestion in the forest, e.g. Beaulieu?
I am sure you are aware that the SAG already has the powers to effectively stop events they consider dangerous. Last year they issued a ‘Red Letter’ when I made them aware of a dangerous conflict. They were unaware of this conflict until I informed them. I then made ALL of the changes (at considerable expense and volunteers’ time) that allowed SAG to revoke the Red Letter and both events to proceed successfully. As you will no doubt remember, the local press were very positive in their subsequent reporting of the two events.
The requirement of the Charter for numbering riders’ front and rear is clearly disproportionate. This requirement is greater than the Highway Code demands for the most powerful motorbikes. The Gridiron is a family event, it has riders aged from 7 to 82 and, as it’s not a race and with no timings, there is no incentive for riders to wear numbers. This was recognised by Dr. Tony Hockley, NF Equestrian Association, who emailed Nigel Matthews, Head of Recreation and responsible for drafting the Charter, stating “the latest draft does go beyond our specific demands. Our request was that the rear numbers requirement should apply only to those events that provide electronic timing. We have been concerned throughout to minimise the compliance burden on the volunteers who organise charity and family cycle events.” Were you made aware of this prior to the meeting, did you consider the additional costs placed on local volunteers?
It isn’t too late to reconsider the two recommendations of the three national cycling organisations, which would still deliver the controls you want on the Wiggle Sportives and allow you to be seen to be acting equitably. A minor amendment to the wording of the charter is all that is required. At your meeting you retrospectively amended the wording of previously unanimously agreed minutes, so making this minor change to the charter cannot not be an issue in itself. Please accept the 2 recommendations of the 3 national cycling organisations:
- the limit on numbers to be agreed with Safety Action Group (SAG) not an arbitrary cap
- no compulsory numbering of riders for non-timed events.
I am obviously happy to meet any member to take this further.