The Verderers Court of the New Forest, which regulates and protects the interests of the area, has set aside extra time to decide whether or not to ban e-bikes from the forest’s 140 miles of cycle trails.
In July, the Advertiser and Times reported that Hale-based firm, Likie Bikie, had drawn criticism from some quarters for promoting escorted e-bike rides through the New Forest.
While the verderers argued in a meeting that their consent for the forest’s waymarked cycle route did not extend to e-bike users, Forestry England, which manages the Crown lands in the New Forest National Park – nearly half of the total area – defended the firm.
Deputy surveyor Bruce Rothnie said that Likie Bike was sticking to approved tracks and that e-bikes were not legally defined as motor vehicles.
The New Forest Equestrian Association (NFEA) has since campaigned for a ban on e-bikes.
Caroline Scott, the chair of the group said: “The concept of going faster over longer distances is hardly in keeping with the appreciation of what the forest stands for, and the quiet peaceful enjoyment that most users seek.
“Permitting motorisation per se on the forest is punching a hole in the legal armour of protection. After e-bikes it is a small step then to quad bikes and scramble bikes. Any form of motorisation should continue to be banned.”
However, a spokesperson for Burley-based PEDALL, which runs inclusive guide rides for people who face a barrier to cycling, said e-bikes simply broadened access.
“As people get older, fitness and health challenges often become a barrier to riding a two-wheel bicycle.
"Electric-assist on a bike can mean many people can continue to enjoy cycling longer, improving health and wellbeing, and maintaining independence.”
Similarly, Ross Kempson, the owner of Cyclexperience in Brockenhurst, said the majority of his firm’s e-bike sales and rentals were to retirees or families with young children.
He said: “The danger of introducing penalties and further restrictions will only stir up hostility and discontent if cyclists feel there is an air of inequality within the New Forest when the rest of the country – if not the world – are encouraging cycling as a major force to tackle pollution and congestion while increasing the health and wellbeing of its citizens.”
Councillor John Spinks, of Bransgore Parish Council, added: “Electrically assisted pedal cycles are here to stay, and should be as acceptable on waymarked cycle tracks as they are on the public highway and the problems caused by the few should be dealt with under the same anti-social behaviour measures that apply to other Forest users who misbehave.”
The Sunday Times reports that the Verderers Court said in a statement: “Given the number of long and detailed presentments received, it was agreed this very important matter and potentially contentious issue needs additional time for consideration, in order to ensure the correct decision is reached.”
Last year the Verderers issued Forestry England only a 12-month extension of access to the off-road cycle network instead of the three years that had been requested.
The court said that no further extensions would be granted unless Forestry England took steps to stop cyclists from deviating from the marked paths.