The Billy Trail £700,000 Miracle!

Do you believe in miracles? Well you should now – the Hayling Billy Trail is finally going to get the smooth, all-weather surface that Cycle Hayling has been campaigning for since we started, over a decade ago!

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.

This is 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.

We had hoped that it would be wide enough for separate paths for cycling and walking all the way along, but some of the edges are (rightly) 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 wide is good 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 hope for some sort of gentle segregation where there’s room, even if only 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.

It was only 4 foot 8 and a half inches wide for a century as the Puffing Billy railway, so it will be more than twice as wide as it was then.

The Billy Trail was always a transport link – first 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 been mostly downhill since then, with very little maintenance, rough surfaces, mud, floods and persistent erosion from the sea.

Cyclists don’t like detours, and that dogleg at the north end by the railway signal is a psychological ‘backward step’. We’ve asked if we can cut straight across inside the lagoon. But apparently there’s no chance – there are too many natural protections.

And 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.