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Riders in Hampshire are “outraged” over plans to resurface a permissive bridleway to make it more accessible for cyclists.

The Old Meon Valley disused railway line has been a popular riding route for more than 50 years.

The permissive bridleway starts at Wickham in Hampshire and ends 10 miles later at the village of West Meon.

But now a joint project between the South Downs National Park and Hampshire County Council (HCC) is under way to upgrade the path to make it more accessible for cyclists, disabled people and young children.

The works are costing £310,000 and will involve the path being closed for several months.

Concerned that the path’s new surface would be unsuitable for horses, local livery yard owner Kathryn Montague has set up a Facebook group named “Save Our Bridleway — Meon Valley Disused Railway Line”.

The group had 645 members in the first five days (after being set up on 25 March), with both riders and cyclists objecting to the plans.

A petition has been set up at Hampshire Saddlery in Botley, and there are suggestions that there should be a ridden protest against the scheme.

Mrs Montague said plans to attract more disabled people are limited as there is no parking near the route and there are concerns that once the barriers are taken down “we will get offroaders”.

“Riders and cyclists have used the disused railway line for years and it is totally unnecessary to spend thousands on resurfacing it,” she told H&H.

“The path is perfect for a trot or canter, but we’ve now been told we should only be walking.”

David Deane, joint cycling projects officer for the South Downs National Park Authority and HCC, said the work is part of a £5m investment in a network of core cycling routes into the South Downs National Park.

“The trail is in desperate need on an upgrade, with overgrown trees on steep embankments that are prone to collapse in high winds and a muddy surface that rarely dries out,” he said.

Mark Weston, director of access at the British Horse Society, told H&H: “This truly is a multi-user route and, in partnership with the South Downs National Park Authority, HCC is repairing the surface to accommodate other users.”

He added that the BHS is discussing the proposed surface improvements with the council and “as far as we are aware there are no proposals to tarmac any sections of the route”.

Ref: H&H 7 April, 2015