TO some it was a scheme doomed to failure by financial concerns – but for others it was a chance to show the world what can be done.
Anger and disappointment greeted the New Forest National Park Authority’s decision to throw out the controversial public bike scheme.
There were suggestions that the project might have become an albatross around the neck of the authority, but committee member David Harrison feels it could have shown national parks across Europe what can be done.
There had already been interest in the scheme from national park bosses in the Canary Islands, the Alps, Madrid and Paris.
Members of the authority voted 12 to two against the £2 million plans, which would have seen 250 bikes made available for hire around the Forest.
Against a quiet, rural and leafy backdrop of the Forest the debate has been fierce, and shows no sign of slowing despite the final decision.
And Mr Harrison feels that an opportunity has been missed to put the New Forest on a global stage.
He cites glamorous national parks such as Fontainebleau, near Paris, as areas that would have had their eye on Hampshire had the scheme gone ahead.
He said: “This was the first national park being asked to trial this and find out whether it would work from a financial point of view and whether there were problems associated with it.
“I believe it would have been very successful and that it would have had important consequences, not just for the New Forest but for the national park in this country and abroad.
“There are not many examples of rural bike-hire schemes anywhere else in the world and we have got major problems with traffic congestion.
“There’s a lot of learning that goes on between national parks.
The concept of the bike-share scheme came to life after the Department for Transport awarded the national park authority £3.57 million in funding to support family cycling.
Plans were drawn up to provide bikes at 20 locations, with initial research showing that 11 out of 12 businesses were positive about the proposals.
Following the scheme being refused, the money remains unspent, despite the Government saying it must be used by March 31, 2015.
And Mr Harrison is concerned that with this deadline only eight months away, it may not see the light of day at all.
He said: “Part of the answer is public transport and I would like to see a park and ride scheme and things that do very little environmental harm.
“It’s very hard to see how this particular project could go ahead, however if there’s any possibility I would be delighted.”
Some members who voted against the scheme cited growing anti-cycling sentiment in the national park.
A community feedback report carried out by the national park authority showed that those surveyed viewed the potential scheme as more beneficial to visitors than businesses or residents.
But residents of Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst suggested that the money could be better spent on the existing infrastructure and voiced concerns over the number of cyclists in the Forest and road safety.
Other New Forest residents said they were worried about how the scheme would work in a rural area and the impact it might have on local businesses.
Speaking after the decision, national park authority chairman Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre said: “This would have been an innovative project that had clear benefits to offer those wishing to use bicycles for recreation and travelling around the Forest, rather than using their cars.
“However as members we have scrutinised it very carefully and concluded that the risks of setting up the scheme now outweigh the benefits.
‘Alternative’ “We felt we could simply not justify spending a considerable amount of Government money on a system that might not be able to survive at this time, and which seems to have insufficient support in the key locations of the Forest where it needs to operate from.”
Suggestions for bike hire points from Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst residents included Lyndhurst car park, Brockenhurst Railway Station and Brockenhurst village hall.
Residents of other New Forest parishes suggested locations including Exbury Gardens, the national park authority’s offices, Hythe Ferry, and the Turfcutters pub in East Boldre.
Andrew Pope, Labour prospective candidate for New Forest East, was unimpressed with the committee’s decision.
He said: “I think that they should be trying harder and encouraging cycling in the New Forest, and this is an example of where they are just retracting back into their shells.
“There are things that could have been done and there still are things that could be done. They need to come up with an alternative.
“Next time we ask for a grant they are going to say ‘no’ because we didn’t spend it as we said we would. It’s embarrassing the New Forest nationally.
“I would like to see some new ideas and innovation to bring new people to the national park and make it more accessible for younger people, but also other people who might go there for different reasons.”