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‘Hands off our bridleways’: MP’s battle cry to HS2 over rights of way plans

The company building the HS2 rail link has insisted it has no plans to downgrade any bridleways, as a local MP has warned: “You ain’t touching them”.

Rumours had abounded that HS2 had planned to downgrade some rights of way to footpaths; which the British Horse Society (BHS) and Buckingham MP Greg Smith had both heard.

HS2 said this is not the case, but Mr Smith told H&H he had heard a number of “whispers”, and that it had proved difficult to get a straight answer from HS2 on its plans.

“I flagged it with the HS2 minister and my office has been asking HS2 what on earth is going on but it took them four days to answer the question on which bridleways were concerned, which doesn’t give us a lot of confidence. They eventually came back to give us three bridleways — and this is where it gets complicated.”

Mr Smith said he was told of three bridleways that HS2 is in discussion with the British Horse Society (BHS) about downgrading to footpaths, and others the company is talking about upgrading or improving, or creating new ones.

He said his office was then told no bridleways will be downgraded, but some will be closed temporarily for construction, and reopened routed across bridges going over the rail line.

“That’s added to my confusion,” he said. “A meeting with the BHS that was supposed to happen this week is now apparently happening next week, so we’ll see how that goes. Let’s see if we can get some more clarity on what on earth is going on.”

Mr Smith said he is “not willing to sit back and accept any more disruption” in his constituency, on which he said the construction of HS2 has had a “devastating” effect, with increased traffic, people forced to sell homes and property and much more.

“There’s still no clarity [on bridleways],” he added. “They’re cleverly saying downgrading isn’t in their power, which it isn’t, but that doesn’t mean they won’t put in an application somewhere to try to do it.

“I’ve got a very strong position on this: you ain’t touching our bridleways. Or if they absolutely have to be temporarily closed for safety reasons, there has to be proper reprovision of routes while they’re shut.”

BHS director of access Mark Weston told H&H: “The BHS is committed to protecting the rights of way network so future generations can continue to enjoy safe off-road access.  We are aware of HS2’s proposals to downgrade these bridleways. This is only something we would support if suitable new alternative bridleways and linkages to the network were provided.

“The support of Greg Smith MP, ahead of our meeting with HS2, is welcome and further highlights that this issue affects more than just the equestrian community. We look forward to a constructive meeting with HS2 Ltd next week.”

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An HS2 spokesperson said the company is “engaging regularly” with the BHS.

He told H&H: “We will continue to keep them informed as we finalise our detailed designs and start construction in Buckinghamshire. In the interests of safety, there may be temporary diversions to some bridleways during construction. These will be clearly marked and we will engage with Buckinghamshire Council and relevant local stakeholders well in advance. We are not planning to downgrade any bridleways to footpaths or cycleways.”

“We are always looking at ways to minimise and mitigate our impact on areas along the route. We listen to and respect the views of affected communities and have funding available for community and environmental projects. The case for HS2, however, remains solid: getting people out of cars and off planes and onto trains to help fight climate change; more capacity on our crowded rail network; and improving connections in the Midlands and North who haven’t seen a new railway built north of London in over a century.”

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