Public bike hire scheme
The majority of members of the New Forest National Park Authority today (19 August 2014) voted to abandon plans to introduce a public bike hire scheme.
This is a decision that will reflect very badly on the organisation for many years to come and was made despite my very best efforts to keep it.
It means that the joint work undertaken by Hampshire County Council and officers at the NPA has resulted in abject failure. It has let down government, who happily provided all the necessary funding (£2 million), it has let down the commercial company chosen as the preferred supplier and it lets down visitors and residents who would have enjoyed using these bikes to travel around the New Forest without causing congestion or polluting the air.
I’m particularly dismayed because members were content to make the bid for the government cash, content to allow officers to spend months working up the scheme, consulting with the different communities, identifying and agreeing sites for the docking stations. They have pulled the scheme at the very last moment and why… I didn’t hear one argument that makes any sense.
The justification given by members, (mostly Conservative) supporting the scrapping of the scheme was that there is anti cycling sentiment in the New Forest and a lack of support. They provided no evidence for this and some members even spoke of problems with large scale cycling events which has got nothing to do with this project.
An examination of the local press over recent months shows that the anti-cycling sentiment comes from the very same Conservative members that took the decision today.
They readily ignored the fact that over two thousand people, including professional cyclists like ChRis Boardman, signed a petition supporting the project, in just four days.
They justified abandoning the scheme by claiming it had a poor business case. This wasn’t true, but in any event, the point of this project was to trial it so that everyone, including government, could learn from the project. Nobody can know just how much the bikes would be used.
Finally, they dropped this project despite being told in a Peer Review that the authority should be prepared to be bolder, a bit more radical and show leadership when it comes to achieving objectives, including promoting sustainable means of transportation.
I have rarely witnessed such a poorly judged decision, all done very hurriedly, during August, when some members like myself were away on holiday.
I will now do my best to help ensure that some of this money is spent on other cycling schemes in the New Forest. If it isn’t spent by the end of April, the money has to be returned to government.