To: Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP
Dear Mr Hunt
I am writing to you as my constituency MP to protest at the misuse of grant funds by the New Forest National parks Authority (NFNPA). You might ask what this has to do with your constituents, but please bear with me: firstly, as the name implies, a National Park is a national asset, administered for the benefit of the national citizenry, and supported by grants paid for by the same. And that includes your constituents. Secondly, some of the grants available to the NFNPA, notably the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) are combined with the South Downs National Park (SDNP) as the “Two Parks LSTF”. The SNDP directly borders your constituency, and is extensively used and enjoyed by your constituents. Funds awarded out of the Two Parks LSTF to the NFNPA are by definition therefore not available to be awarded to and spent by the SDNPA, and a misuse of funds by the one adversely impacts the other.
The NFNPA applied for, and was awarded, a significant sum, in excess of £2 million, to develop what would probably be the first example of a “Boris-Bike” style cycle hire facility outside a major city. The cycles would be available for short term hires and could be collected from one docking station and delivered to another, with docking stations next to railways stations and in towns and villages and other points of interest in the South East of the Forest. The scheme was conceived to be of benefit both to residents, and to visitors to the forest, and to provide an alternative to motor transport which, as I am sure you know, is frequently gridlocked around the forest, especially in summer.
The scheme was abandoned, due – according to the NFNPA – to the hostility of local residents. The authority has produced no evidence of this hostility, indeed if anything the evidence suggests the reverse, but I’ll return to that. Now, they wish still to keep the money that they do not propose to use for the applied-for purpose, and use it for other schemes.
If these schemes were in a similar spirit of sustainable transport and in particular cycling facilities, I would have no objection, but they are not. The largest part of the grant would now, if they get their way, be used to resurface the edges of Rhinefield Drive. The damage requiring this repair was caused by motor vehicles. By the NFNPA’s own admission, only 139 cyclists a day use this road, and 1,562 cars drive on it daily. (Source: NFNPA http://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/download/meetings/id/3393/nfnpa_nffce_programme_update_to_members_sept_2014 ) Clearly the beneficiary of this proposed expenditure, which should come from the road maintenance budget, will be the motorists, which does not fit with the sustainability objective.
Another significant chunk of the grant money is proposed to be used to upgrade cycle routes in the Moors Valley Country Park, a privately-run commercial concern some four miles outside the boundaries of the New Forest national park, largely accessible only by private cars. This clearly goes against the stated objectives of the grant which are to promote cycling in the National park.
These proposals would replace the original proposal for a cycle hire system for which I understand that a contractor had been engaged to manage the service, apparently on the basis of hostility from local residents. The NFNPA undertook an online survey, which was responded to by several hundred people, mainly residents of the Forest but also some visitors. The responses to this survey were analysed in a report to the NFNPA. (Source: http://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/downloads/file/839/community_feedback_report_summary ) Far from indicating significant hostility to the proposals, the survey responses as analysed showed something between indifference and mild tolerance for the proposals and for cyclists in general. The supposed wishes of the residents not to have this scheme (even if it was only their decision to make, which it is not) are therefore mere assertions, not supported, indeed contradicted, by evidence.
So, to conclude, I would be grateful if you could express your constituents’ views to prevent this abuse of sustainable transport grant funding by the NFNPA.