The Hayling Billy trail runs all the way up the west side of the island starting in West Town and ending near the bridge. It is open to walkers, cyclists and horse riders (although not technically a bridleway).
It continues on the mainland, but with a much better sealed surface, crossing the main road at Langstone, past the Spring Centre in Havant and ends at Havant railway station.
Since its creation from the old railway line in the 1980’s, following a campaign by a group of cyclists inspired by Sustrans, its condition has deteriorated badly. Nowadays, you need a pretty tough bike and a pretty tough rider, and in the wet you’ll get plastered.
Worse, a section of the trail collapsed into the sea in 2015. That was repaired (leaving a very poor surface) but the repair was only temporary, and it remains vulnerable to the sea. Amazingly, the official sea defence policy is still to ‘do nothing’.
These issues don’t just affect cyclists, but also walkers, push chairs, prams, mobility scooters and wheelchairs. Cycle Hayling is therefore campaigning to defend and restore the trail with a properly drained, all-weather surface. The mainland section of the trail shows what is possible.
At the north end, an orange, sacrificial, self-binding gravel has been tried. The jury is still out on whether it’s a good enough surface in all weathers, and on how long it will last, but in any event, it couldn’t be used in more exposed sections – it will just wash away.
So we’re still looking for a surface that is acceptable to all users and to all stakeholders, and for the money to do it.
However, we are actively working to upgrade the Saltmarsh Lane footpath to cycling, which links the Billy Trail to West Lane, thanks to council funding. And we’re planning a new Smooth the Path surface that will be better, not just for cycling, but also for pushchairs, disabled buggies and child scooters. We hope this will give us good evidence of what works and what can become acceptable in such a sensitive area.
Will there even be a Billy Trail in future?
The sea will eventually breach the Billy Trail if nothing is done – we just don’t know whether it’s 1, 10 or a 100 years away. The last official Environment Agency status was ‘No active intervention’.
However, this is clearly not the policy in practice, as the last breach was patched up. Past policy was solely determined by the resulting financial losses, so an empty part of Hayling was not considered ‘valuable enough’ to protect. And even if we had the money, some engineering solutions are precluded by very sensitive ecological and political issues.
But things are changing. The community and ecological value of the Trail are now starting to be recognised. Hampshire County Council (the owner of the Billy Trail) is now committing in principle to replace any trail destroyed, by moving it inland.
The harbour coastline is now managed by the Eastern Solent Coastal Partnership, and we understand they are working around all 3 solent harbours, looking at each length in turn, and have now got to Langstone village.
This gives us confidence that there WILL be a Billy Trail forever.
Won't resurfacing destroy the nature of the trail?
It’s fair to say that until the sea defence issue is resolved, discussing investment in a new surface is difficult, but at least maintenance of the Billy Trail is now in Hampshire’s long term plans.
Up ’til now, the only surfaces deemed to be generally ‘acceptable’ have been natural surfaces like scalpings or hoggin. However, even with the latest attempt, self-binding gravel, we haven’t yet found a natural surface that is ‘acceptable’ to most of the public for everyday cycling, not just for a social ride on the finest, driest days. And that is ‘unacceptable’. And it’s completely contrary to the Active Travel Policy and Cycling Policy of both Hampshire and Havant.
We often ride in rural Hampshire and West Sussex, on paths that fit perfectly well with their natural surroundings and the environment, and yet have sealed surfaces. We remain optimistic that we can find one for the Billy Trail that is acceptable to all users and to all stakeholders, and without taking away from people’s enjoyment of the path.
Our new Smooth the Path surface for the Saltmarsh Lane footpath will be an important stepping stone towards that. Not just for cycling, but also for pushchairs, disabled buggies and child scooters.
It is the best part of 30 years since John Grimshaw, founder and leader of Sustrans, conducted a comprehensive study of the Billy Tail, with the recommendation that it should be upgraded to an all-weather path, enabling all types of users convenient passage at all times of the year.
Hampshire County Council purchased the Trail at a nominal sum from British Rail, following the closure of the railway in 1963. But they have consistently resisted this all-weather recommendation, citing its nature reserve status and the needs of horse riders.
English Nature (now Natural England) then wished to impose a ‘managed retreat’ policy, thus allowing vulnerable sections of the Trail to be at risk from the tide. Once again, HCC took this as an opportunity to avoid contemplation of upgrading the trail, despite having by now upgraded the northern sections on the mainland, bowing to pressure from local residents.
Fortunately, the power of Natural England to dictate policy towards the western coast of the Island has receded and the Environment Agency now have control. They may have even recently changing the policy to ‘hold the line’, meaning that the route of the Billy Trail will be protected. HCC, therefore, have no excuse not to upgrade the Trail, other than citing a lack of the necessary finance.
It is to be hoped that we can secure funding for the whole Trail to be properly upgraded in the not too distant future.
An upgrade will not just benefit existing users, principally cyclists (75%), walkers (21%) and horseriders (4%), but also disability ‘buggy’ drivers and runners. Indeed, Mike Williams of Havant Athletics Club, organisers of the Hayling 10 and Rob Piggott, organiser of the Portsmouth Marathon, with both events using the Trail, are critical of the state of the Trail and fully support our upgrade campaign.
Finally, The Billy Trail has been designated part of the ‘The Shipwrights Way’ project from north Hampshire to Portsmouth and at least two original sculptures are to be erected alongside the Trail, reflecting some aspect of the trail and local history. Let us hope that these works of art are not soon covered in mud!
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Posted on: January 23, 2019 by: Wilf
This is our Hayling Islander column for February (excluding any editing by the Islander, images may differ).
Cycle Hayling launches our new website and ‘Smooth the Path’ campaign.
Smooth the Path
Does Hayling deserve smooth, all-weather paths that can be used safely by everyone? Not just by cyclists, but by parents walking with buggies, kids with scooters and balance bikes, wheelchairs, disabled buggies, and even people who struggle with balance? Like the ones on the mainland in Havant?
Because Hampshire County Council says we don’t.
And that’s why Cycle Hayling is launching our new 2019 website with our ‘Smooth the Path’ campaign.Continue reading →
Posted on: January 23, 2019 by: Wilf
This is REALLY important because :
- A formal plan unlocks much more future government funding
- Implementing it becomes a formal policy of the whole council, not just the cycling team
- It forces developers to show how their housing plans fit into OUR bigger plan
- It forces all of us to plan for the best long term solution, rather than just for quick wins
Posted on: October 19, 2015 by: Andy Henderson
We understand that work on repairing the section of the trail that eroded away last year is due to start in early November.
This will seek to restore the trail to the state it was in before the storms. It’s not a permanent fix, however. We can expect erosion to continue until a longer-term solution can be implemented.
The work will involve some lorries on the trail and, therefore, some closures. We’ll let you know if we hear more.Continue reading →
Posted on: June 20, 2014 by: Andy Henderson
See below for an update from the Havant Transport and Implementation Team. We don’t yet have dates for the closure but will post them here when we do.
It’s good to see more improvement. It’s early days, but the new section seems much better than the southern section, so we’re hoping it will set the standard for future improvements.Continue reading →
Posted on: June 10, 2014 by: Andy Henderson
The section at the north of the island is now open again, although all users are being asked to treat the new surface with respect while it is bedding in.
There’s also some more work to do that will not require the path to be closed, so please watch out for people working.
Peter Drury’s blog has some photos of the new section and some taken while it was under construction.
We are all hoping that this will prove to be an excellent development that will show the way for future Billy Trail improvements. We’ll be keeping an eye on it as time goes on.
Thanks – once again – are due to Peter Drury who has done so much to bring this about through his Hayling Billy 50 work. I’m sure he’d be the first to point out that it’s been a team effort involving Havant, Hampshire, National Lottery and a bunch of others.Continue reading →
Posted on: May 9, 2014 by: Andy Henderson
Havant Borough Council – acting as agent for Hampshire County Council – is closing the top end of the Billy Trail for three weeks starting on 19th May. That’s so they can lay a new surface over a 250 metre section.Continue reading →
Posted on: April 25, 2014 by: Andy Henderson
The latest progress report on the bridge works (Works Progress 7: 16th April 2014 on this page) says…
We’ll then move off the road and work on the ‘Hayling Billly 50’ Trail rebuilding, completing everything by mid June.
That’s a reference to Lottery-funded project initiated by Peter Drury as part of the Hayling Billy 50 years commemoration.
It looks like something is definitely going to happen. We understand that the project will:
- Use the same surface as recently laid at the south end of the Billy Trail
- Resurface a limited section of the trail (and not, as hoped, as far as the Esso Garage)
We are concerned over the quality of recent cycle path development by both Havant and Hampshire so – at Peter’s request – I have documented our concerns with an offer to help. Peter has passed them to the project board.Continue reading →
Posted on: March 23, 2014 by: Andy Henderson
In this update…
- Footpath 88 extension project cancelled
- Billy Trail Phase 4 development
- Billy Trail south end development
- Issues with new cycle paths
- Bike security session
Posted on: February 8, 2014 by: Andy Henderson
Havant Borough Council has had a second go at improving the south end of the Billy Trail next to HIADS. This after the first attempt caused safety concerns and had to be reversed.Continue reading →
Posted on: February 1, 2014 by: Andy Henderson
You can find out the latest at:Continue reading →
Posted on: December 20, 2013 by: Robert Sebley
As reported in today’s Portsmouth News (see http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/cash-grant-set-to-give-hayling-billy-a-new-lease-of-life-1-5763502) the Peter Drury HB50 project to mark the 50 years since the last Hayling Billy steam train, has now been successful in gaining Lottery funds of nearly £90k. Well Done Peter and we look forward to seeing the improvements on the island part of the Billy Trail.Continue reading →
Posted on: September 19, 2013 by: Andy Henderson
The updated Hayling Cycle map published by Havant at http://www.havant.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/Back_FINAL.pdf reveals a number of developments planned to complete by Spring 2014:
- Completion of the links between the Langstone section of the Billy Trail and the Hayling section making it possible to use off-road cycle paths to travel between West Town and Havant – with just a few road crossings.
- Signposting of a cycle route to the west of Beachlands taking people onto Ferry Road to the East of the Golf Club.
We understand that there might be other developments taking place at the same time and that some work could be completed well before next Spring.
You can find the full list of Havant’s published cycle maps here.Continue reading →
Posted on: July 18, 2013 by: Andy Henderson
We’ve done some digging and Havant has confirmed that:
“£60,000 capital funding has been allocated to Havant Borough Council (HBC) by PUSH to improve access and connectivity to green infrastructure on Hayling Island through enhancements to the Billy Trail and the Seafront footpath/cycleway. HBC and Hampshire County Council will contribute S106 funding to match the PUSH grant which is to be spent on resurfacing work and provision of signage for both trails, including restoration of the old Billy Line signal arm. The work will be carried out during autumn/winter 2013/14 so it will be completed for Spring 2014.”
We’ll publish more details as we learn them.Continue reading →
Posted on: May 5, 2013 by: Andy Henderson
Cycle Hayling and several users of the Billy Trail raised concerns through a number of contacts, and they have been heard. There is a large pile of the stones in the car park next to HIADS. Hopefully they’ll be removed and not redeployed on the trail.
You should be aware, however, there are still some stones left on the trail. Some care is needed to avoid them.Continue reading →
Posted on: April 29, 2013 by: Andy Henderson
Some of the dips at the south end of the trail that turn into large puddles after heavy rain have been filled in with some kind of aggregate.Continue reading →
Posted on: January 14, 2013 by: uɥoɾ
The Hayling Billy trail is a great facility shared by walkers, cyclists and horse riders. At various times of the year it supports many kinds of cycling, and many kinds of cyclist. There is a regular band of commuters using the trail as a pleasant traffic-free start and end to their day; and some off-island commuters use the trail as an alternative way to Portsmouth (via the ferry) rather than ride around the mainland and down Portsea Island. The trail is popular with weekend leisure cyclists. Young children learn to ride their bikes along the trail. It’s a nice route if you go shopping in Havant by bike. Cyclists ride the trail on mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, touring bikes or their shopping bikes; out and out racing bikes can be difficult because they work best on smoother surfaces, but ridden slowly and carefully a racing bike can use the trail … most of the time. But some of the time the trail is difficult for all bikes.Continue reading →