Meon Valley trail revamp sparks a heated public meeting

BUSY The packed meeting in Wickham last night about the resurfacing of the Meon Valley railway line
BUSY The packed meeting in Wickham last night about the resurfacing of the Meon Valley railway line
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MORE than 150 people packed into a community hall for a heated debate over the controversial resurfacing of a disused railway line.

The meeting at the Wickham Community Centre in Mill Lane descended into chaos as people in the audience aired frustrations to Hampshire County Council officers last night.

Users of the Meon Valley railway line from West Meon to Wickham, and those who live nearby, attended to find out why the council decided to carry out major resurfacing work at a cost of £380,000.

Many believe the work, which is not yet complete, did not need to be carried out.

Railway line users such as horse riders, cyclists and walkers, say work that began 10 weeks ago to improve the trail, is destroying the countryside and the hard surface laid down is causing problems. They say it has injured horses, punctured bicycle tyres and is difficult to walk and run on.

But after two hours of fierce debate, it was decided smaller forum groups will meet and collect views from people and then discuss it at another meeting with council officers.

Imogen Hill, from Swanmore, started a petition on the issue and has gathered hundreds of signatures.

She said: ‘It’s clear to see from the meeting that many people are passionate about this. It’s better we have representatives from the different groups affected, gather views and then hold another 
meeting with the officers.’

The work was commissioned by the council and the South Downs National Park Authority, with the aim of increasing accessibility by widening the trail, resurfacing it and putting in drainage.

The council maintained the resurfacing of the route has not been finished.

Jo Heath, head of countryside for the county council, said: ‘The work is not finished yet and is due to be finished in the next month or so.

‘It will take some time to bed in.

‘It will take a winter season to weather.’

Heather Richards, of Shirrell Heath, is a dog walker.

She said: ‘There were a lot of questions asked but hardly any answers given.

‘I think a smaller forum meeting is a better idea.’