Home Page: Hayling Billy trail restoration

Hayling Billy trail restoration

The Hayling Billy trail is the only traffic-free cycle route off the island. It was transformed from the old Puffing Billy railway line in the 1980’s, following a campaign by a group of cyclists inspired by Sustrans. But the surface has deteriorated badly, and sections of the trail have collapsed into the sea, which are very difficult to repair with such strong nature protections.

But it’s finally going to get the smooth, all-weather surface that Cycle Hayling has been campaigning for since we started in 2010!

Hampshire County Council has won a £600,000 grant from Active Travel England for a smooth, all-weather surface from the bridge to at least the Esso garage car park. This is ring-fenced active travel money – it was never available for road improvements or sea defences.

And Hampshire and Havant Councils are jointly investing another £100,000 in a Feasibility Design for the whole Billy Trail, including looking at links towards the centre of the island. And where the current billy trail is at risk of being washed away by the sea, alternative inland routes will be investigated along with measures to protect it from future erosion without impacting nature.

Cycle Hayling says this is wonderful news, not just for cyclists, but for walkers, the disabled, horse-riders and nature lovers. And for motorists, by getting cyclists off our narrow, overloaded main road.

Here’s what we know so far:
  • It will try to cater for everyone – cyclists, walkers, parents with child buggies, wheelchairs for the disabled, nature lovers and horse riders. Where there’s room, it will have an adjacent ‘country path’, for walkers and horses.
  • It will have a natural-looking, all-weather surface, like the Langstone end of the Billy Trail. That’s asphalt underneath, surface dressed with embedded gravel to make it less vulnerable to skidding, surface water and ice, but blending in with nature. We hope there’ll be a slight camber to help rain wash off mud and leaves.
  • It will use recycled materials in the base layer, saved from past road repairs.
  • Future maintenance will be done by Hampshire Highways. This is a huge step forwards, which we’ve long campaigned for, because it previously fell to Hampshire Countryside Services, who don’t have the money or the expertise. In the past, Hampshire Highways would only take on cycle path if paid in advance for the next 30 or 40 years maintenance!
  • Victoria Rd West will also be improved, next to the Esso garage, which has caused quite a few cycling accidents over recent years. This is the only safe cycle route out of the North Hayling estate.

Hampshire County Council is the transport authority, and own most of the Billy Trail, but they’ve delegated more than ever before to Havant Council. That’s great for Hayling, because Havant have much better local knowledge, great cycle path expertise, and better communications.

A key issue will be gaining support from all users of the Billy Trail, not just cyclists. Many people are concerned that cyclists will go too fast and cause accidents, or that it will become too much like a road, or even that it motor vehicles will be allowed (they won’t).

So it’s really important for all cyclists to demonstrate that we can share paths respectfully with walkers. I know cyclists in a hurry hate slowing down, but walkers loathe bikes whooshing past without warning too. So use your bell!

Ideally it would have separate paths for cycling and walking all the way along, but some of the edges are protected for nature by law – which we all support – and making it wider would make it look too much like a road. But traffic volumes are low, so we think 3 metres is wide enough, especially where’s there’s room for the ‘country path’ alongside.

Many of the new cyclists we hope it will attract will be lone commuters, riding in single file, so they won’t need as much space as a leisure group who spread across the path. We’d like some sort of gentle segregation by signs or surface markings to ’nudge’ walkers and cyclists to their own side. We’d suggest walkers on the sea side, cyclists on the inland side.

And it’s over double it’s old railway width of 4 foot 8 and a half inches! It’s always been a transport link – it’s first century as The Puffing Billy railway line, from 1867 until the Beeching cuts in 1963. It then languished for 20 years, almost unusable, until 1984, when a group of Havant cyclists persuaded John Grimshaw (later to found Sustrans) to come up with a design to transform it, which they used to lobby Havant and Hampshire Councils. And it later became a core part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network as NCN2.

But it’s gone mostly downhill since then, with very little maintenance, rough surfaces, mud, floods and persistent erosion from the sea.

We’ve tried to shortern the northern end dogleg by the railway signal – cyclists don’t like detours, and that always seems a psychological ‘backward step’. So we were hoping we could go straight across inside the lagoon, but apparently there are too many natural protections.

Many people have asked why are we tarting up the bit that’s already pretty good – why aren’t we starting with the WORST bits? Blame our lovely Tory government – if the project’s not complete by March 2024, they grab back all the money. And the only section that could be finished by then is the northern section – just in time for the May elections. I think that’s cynical electioneering, and not the right thing for residents of Hayling.

WORSE …… the government has slashed future Active Travel funding by two-thirds. The £600,000 came from Active Travel England’s round 4 Active Travel Funding, and only covers the first 1.2 kms – we’ll need much more.

Please write to Alan Mak today, asking him to reverse the Active Travel cuts and get us the funding to protect the Billy Trail for the next 30 or 40 years.

If you want to support our efforts, please register your support; registration is free and we will keep you up-to-date with progress.