Campaigners hit back after trail complaint

A protest in Wickham last year against the work
A protest in Wickham last year against the work
A protest held in February this year in London by campaigners.

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CAMPAIGNERS have criticised an investigation into a council’s work to upgrade a countryside trail.

A £400,000 revamp of the old Meon Valley railway line, which runs from Wickham to West Meon, was conducted by Hampshire County Council and the South Downs National Park last year.

However, the work left some people upset as they said it had destroyed the countryside and that the new surface had made it unusable for cyclists, horse riders, dog walkers and runners.

More than 2,500 people joined a Facebook group to oppose the work, and they complained to the Local Government Ombudsman.

The LGO has now said it found no fault in the way the work was done.

But campaigner Martin Montague has hit back.

He said: ‘Frankly, it’s a bit of a whitewash. We complained to the ombudsman on the basis that the project was flawed: no proper consultation was done; they failed to get planning permission; misled the media and spent taxpayers’ money monitoring Facebook.

‘The ombudsman decided not to look at much of our complaint. Nor did it look into the fact that the council still hasn’t responded to Freedom of Information requests.

‘The whole scheme is an example of taxpayer-funded public bodies forgetting they are supposed to be there to serve the public.’

Andrew Gibson, the council’s member for recreation and countryside, said: ‘The LGO investigates complaints in a fair and independent way, and found no evidence of any fault by the council or South Downs National Park. In reality only a small minority of people have complained about last year’s restoration, which has seen high numbers of visitors and positive feedback from walkers, cyclists, horse riders, and accessibility groups who can now use the trail all year round.

‘The 10-mile trail has also been positively and independently reviewed by national publications as a good all-weather off-road route particularly safe for families.’

A spokesperson for the LGO said: ‘Our investigation found no fault in the way the council reached its decisions. While we understand that the changes to the trail are unpopular with some, our job is to look at the evidence and come to an independent view on whether the council acted with fault in coming to its conclusions.’