CONTROVERSIAL works to upgrade a country trail that sparked demonstrations and protests from local residents have been a success, according to the county council.
The works have resurfaced the Meon Valley trail, which runs along an old railway line from West Meon to Wickham, and have been carried out by Hampshire County Council and the South Downs National Park Authority.
The authorities say that this project, which cost around £380,000, has improved drainage and surfacing so it can be used all year round as well as increasing access for disabled people.
But campaigners say the work has ruined the countryside, and made the path difficult to walk, run, cycle and ride horses on.
They say the surface – a type of shingle called scalpings – has even caused injuries.
Imogen Hill, who set up campaign group ‘Save our Bridleway. Meon Valley Disused Railway Line’ on Facebook which has attracted nearly 3,000 members, said the project was a ‘disgrace’.
She said: ‘It has not been a success. It has been very underhand. We are the taxpayers and they have not listened to us.
‘The new surface is not easy to cycle, run along and take a horse on. People really are heartbroken about this.’
But Hampshire County Council’s Andrew Gibson, executive member for culture, recreation and countryside, said the trail was a ‘success’ and it would be opened and finished in time for the school summer holidays.
He said: ‘The works on the trail will deliver what we set out to do, which is to create a safe, high quality, attractive route for as many people as possible to use, whether they are walking, cycling or horse riding.
People really are heartbroken about this.Imogen Hill
‘The campaign group would like to see us lay a new surface on the entire length of the trail, but as this would double the cost isn’t possible within the budget.
‘I am confident that the finished job will be a huge improvement and will have far-reaching health and wellbeing benefits for generations to come.’
A protest march was held last month in Wickham at which donations were made which the group used to consult barrister Wayne Beglan at Cornerstone.
He advised them that the works ‘were not permitted development as previously stated and definitely required planning permission’.
This, campaigners say, opens the way for a judicial review.