Southern Daily Echo Online – 20 October 2014
Curbs on competitive cyclists in the New Forest are badly needed to prevent “clashes and accidents”, an MP told ministers.
Julian Lewis urged the Government to intervene in the growing controversy over the Sportive contests, which bring thousands of speeding cyclists to the National Park. Speaking in a Commons debate, the Conservative MP for New Forest East stressed he was arguing for “light-touch regulation”, not for the mass events to be outlawed.
Instead, he urged ministers to allow the National Park Authority (NPA) to:
- Limit the number of mass cycle rides – and the number of riders taking part
- Require each biker to wear a number to ensure they can be identified if “incidents of an aggressive nature” occur.
Dr Lewis said:
“It’s sad that in recent months a major problem has arisen in relation to cycling in the New Forest. It is not, however, an insoluble problem.”
The MP said cycling events in the Forest had caused no problems when between 500 or 600 bikers took part. But he warned of 3,000-strong sportives, adding:
“People are competing not against each other but against themselves. They are seeking at all times to better the speed and time with which they complete quite lengthy cycle rides in the New Forest – and that brings obvious dangers. Unless these major events are regulated – hopefully with a very light touch – there are obvious dangers of clashes, accidents and the generation of ill-feeling.”
However, the minister present – Transport Minister Robert Goodwill – did not directly respond to the suggestions made, at the close of the debate.
Dr Lewis also referred to the park authority’s decision to scrap a plan to bring 250 so-called “Boris Bikes” to the New Forest, because of “the antipathy caused by the clashes”. But he declined to give an opinion on the decision, telling MPs: “I do not have enough information to make a judgment.” The MP also “confessed” that “the last time I cycled regularly was in Oxford in 1975”.
But calls for curbs on cycling events came under fire last night from Totton County Councillor David Harrison, who is also a member of the NPA. He said:
“I think the NPA can best handle any difficulties by means of the mutually agreed cycling charter. It’s draft form and there’s good evidence it’s already working. As long as people act sensibly, there’s no need for the heavy hand of legislation and all difficulties that entails.”
Martin Barden of UK Cycling Events, which organises the Sportives, declined to comment.