While most of you were recovering from Christmas over-stuffing on Turkey, a few of us braved the weather with David Willetts, our local MP, to show him what Cycle Hayling has been up to recently. David is a keen cyclist, both here and in London, and a past ‘Paris to Hayling’ rider, so he jumped at the chance to burn off a few calories and get some fresh air.
David knows the Billy Trail very well, and has ridden to the beach many times for a swim, but we wanted to show him a few of the things that we think need improving.
So The Ship Inn was a great place to start, because even in the quiet period after Christmas, the traffic made it quite tricky to cross the road. Dave Mowatt told David how he really wasn’t comfortable for his young daughter to cycle over the bridge so close to oncoming traffic, especially when there was any sort of side-wind.
At the end of the bridge, we showed David our new ‘welcome to Hayling’ cycle map signboard. Hopefully, no more visiting cyclists will have to brave the ‘S’ bends on the busy main road, just because they didn’t see the Billy Trail signs.
Luckily, it wasn’t raining, and the Billy Trail had dried out somewhat since the worst of the flooding, but even so, we still got pretty wet and muddy, as there’s no camber to run the water off. As David found, not very inviting for winter commuting! The Hayling Billy 50 team have applied for lottery funding for disabled access at the northern end, with a smoother and hopefully cambered all-weather surface – wish them luck.
The southern end however was still very muddy in patches – so we explained to David the importance of our own upgrade project.
At the Station Theatre, we resisted the temptation to test David’s jumping ability on the Dirt Trail, and went straight to admire our second new cycle map signboard.
Staunton Avenue took us down to the beach, where we pedalled along the seafront to the impressive new COPP memorial, which David was very keen to see. The path was quite stony and tricky at several points, with several dismounts and one falling off. We told David of our disappointment in the miniscule cycle funding from the Department for Transport, none of which had ever reached Hayling, and that Havant Borough Council could only ‘beg’ for funds for a new promenade and cycle path – unsuccessfully, so far.
At Eastoke Corner, we turned north to show David some of Hayling’s ‘hidden treasures’ – amazing paths through delightful open countryside, past the old Barn Theatre and Tournerbury Woods, ending up at the old ‘cinder track’ to Mill Rythe School.
Most of these paths were new to David, and may well be to many islanders. David was already very aware of the health benefits of cycling, so we all felt that barely 10% of children cycling to Hayling College was pretty shocking for a flat island community. These lovely paths run right past 3 of the local schools, so could make a perfect cycle route for many more of the school children travelling from the south and east of the island. Not all these paths are officially cycle-able, (although many people clearly are cycling them), nor in a good enough state – yet! We explained how our ‘Safe Routes to Schools’ project is working with the local landowners and councils to allow safe shared use of these paths with walkers, with our first path due to go live in the Spring!
North from Mill Rythe School, the only cycle route is the busy main road, which is far from cycle-friendly, so we wanted David to see our ideas for a new ‘north-south off-road cycle link’. Our favoured route would run along an existing track, but currently restricted to horse riders only. David himself was also keen to see the public footpath cutting through from Castleman’s Lane to Victoria Road and ultimately to the bridge. We then cut across the fields to Northney Farm Tea Rooms to reward ourselves with a spot of lunch, and discuss what we had seen over coffee and beer.
David was very impressed with Cycle Hayling’s work to date, signed our petition for a Cycle-friendly Hayling, and offered his full support. We agreed on three specific items where his help would be invaluable :
- Lobbying to open up the North-south horse and foot paths to public cycle access
- Lobbying Havant Borough and Hampshire County Councils on our projects, and especially to upgrade the Billy Trail for all-weathers
- Raising the lack of funding for cycle routes with Patrick McLoughlin, the government Transport Secretary.
So we’d like to thank David for a great New Year cycle, and for his support for a more cycle-friendly Hayling in 2013.