A 'MAJOR anti-cycling sentiment' in the New Forest could scupper multi-million pound plans for a 'Boris-bike'-style hire system.
Fears over aggravating the “anti-cycling” mood in the forest as well as concerns about sponsorship have led to an extraordinary meeting of the New Forest National Park Authority being called on Tuesday.
Officers and members are recommending the authority does not proceed with the New Forest Public Bike System - aimed at families and tourist rather than serious cyclists - due to the concerns.
A report to the committee says: “In the New Forest a major anti-cycling sentiment has come to the fore in the wake of large-scale cycle sportive events which have impacted on local people.
“A fresh wave of concern exists about the safety of on-road cycling. Concerns about safety featured prominently in the responses to the recent questionnaire about the proposed scheme, especially amongst those who live and work in the Forest.
“Members therefore questioned whether the time was right to introduce more cyclists onto New Forest roads.”
A petition has been set-up online urging the chief executive of the NPA to proceed with the scheme.
The recommendation follows continuing controversy over mass cycling events in the forest.
A charter was drawn up earlier this year for organisers of mass cycle rides following a flood of complaints about the speed and volume of cyclists taking part in the rides.
And a new round of controversy emerged after saboteurs tried to disrupt a Wiggle sportive ride by throwing nails across the route.
Last year, the Department for Transport awarded the New Forest NPA £3.57million to support family cycling in the park.
As well as an upgrade of certain cycle routes and a chance to improve cycling facilities, the programme also included the opportunity to implement a 'limited network' of bike docking stations alongside existing bike hire services.
This part of the programme would cost £2million of the £3.57million total funding.
Initial interest showed 11 of the 12 businesses contacted wanted to host a docking station on their land.
The proposal aimed to increase connectivity between communities and attractions and support the economy as it would allow shorter journeys by bike rather than the existing half or full day.
It was hoped the scheme would also help to reduce the amount of traffic in the area, a key aim of the organisation.
Funding needed to be spent and works completed by March 2015.
But despite a successful search for an operator, a so-called task and finish group recommended not to go ahead with the scheme.
A report to the meeting next week says the backdrop to cycling in the New Forest and elsewhere has 'changed significantly' since the original report was carried out.
The changes include fears over sponsorship since the main sponsor of the London Cycle Hire scheme has said it won't renew its sponsorship.
The authority says similar schemes have launched in Liverpool and Reading without a sponsor and the likelihood of money for the New Forest plan is 'markedly reduced'.
Along with the concerns about the 'anti-cycling sentiment', the report concludes that 'members had insufficient confidence that the project would now be financially sustainable or receive sufficient local support, and therefore be appropriate for the New Forest at this time.”
Earlier this year, the NPA dumped its chairman amid the continuing controversy over mass cycling events.
Retired company director Julian Johnson, 82, was ousted at the annual meeting after four years in the role.
Following a vote to replace him with his deputy, former Official Verderer Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre, members cited the need to tackle the problems being caused by huge cycling events in the area.
After the meeting members pointed out that Cllr Johnson lived in Wiltshire, whereas Mr Crosthwaite Eyre resided in the Forest.
At the time Cllr Maureen Holding said: “It needs someone who lives in the Forest and understands all the problems that cycling has brought.”