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Entry Cap for New Forest Sportives Opposed by Cycling Organisations

by Nick Gregory

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One of the most prominent figures in the crusade against cycling in the national park has been Dr Tony Hockley of the NFEA. Dr Hockley, who is also a member of the multi-interest New Forest Cycling Advisory Group, suggested that the "last straw" for the NFEA was "having to cancel" the annual pony drift near Brockenhurst in 2013 due to the date clash with the Wiggle New Forest 100.

However, UK Cycling Events stated that sufficient notice had been given, and that they hoped for "better, more-timely communication" from drift organisers in future to avoid clashes.

Nevertheless, there have been examples of cyclists behaving badly, and in April of 2014 UK Cycling Events took the unprecedented decision to ban 18 riders from their events for "Rule Infringements" during the Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive. As had been the case the year before, the event was targeted by saboteurs, with 15 riders puncturing after tacks were deliberately spread on the road.

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At the time, local MP, Julian Lewis spoke out against the attacks: "It does not help anyone when people, however frustrated they feel, do something that could lead to a nasty accident, or at the very least a nasty confrontation. I'm hoping that the cause of the provocation will be sorted out sooner rather than later, but taking the law into one's own hands is not the way forward."

In October of last year there were fears that tensions would spill over once again, when two different events were scheduled to take place in the National Park on the same day. However, despite Councillor Maureen Holding - a vocal critic of sportives and similar rides in the area - saying: "organisers of mass cycling events are treating the Forest as a playground," both events went off without incident

In fact, one driver ended up being glad of the number of cyclists out on the road; Hazel Platt, from Basingstoke, got her Nissan Micra stuck in a ditch and was helped by six passing cyclists. 

At today's meeting the NFNPA will discuss a report on the charter by Nigel Matthews, Head of Recreation Management and Learning for the National Park. In the report, Mathews points out that only one organisation (UK Cycling Events) has run events involving more than the proposed 1,000-rider limit.

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 In recent years, theirs are the only sportive events that have exceeded 1,000 riders (on about five days/year). Martin has fully engaged with the Liaison Group and made a number of changes to his events as requested, but he does not support the cap or the need for rear identification numbers.

Two national cycle organisations are represented on the Liaison Group: British Cycling (BC) and the Cyclist's Touring Club (CTC). They support most of the Charter, especially the role of the Safety Advisory Group. However, they have consistently argued against the cap and blanket statement about rider identification. 

The New Forest National Park Authority will only suport the charter if it contains a cap: In June 2014 Members resolved that they would only support the Charter if it includes a cap of 1,000 cyclists and requires that riders wear rear numbers.

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When the proposed cap on rider numbers was first suggested last year, Totton councillor David Harrison - who sits on the authority's board - stated that "cars are much more of a problem on New Forest roads than cycles." 

After this latest development he told the Southern Daily Echo's Chris Yandell: "It would have been so much better if the charter had concentrated on things that are necessary and achievable, but stubbornness has meant that we're likely to publish a charter that the cyclists won't sign up to."

*All images courtesy of UK Cycling Events

Do you live or ride in the New Forest? Let us know what you think in the comments section below...

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