Not in our front yards, Surrey residents tells cyclists: Locals complain that they are being 'kettled' in their homes


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The Independent Online

They run through some of the most picturesque villages and countryside in England, but the narrow lanes along the rolling hills of Surrey and the ancient woodlands of the New Forest are leading to conflict, according to some local residents.

Angry letters complaining about "Lycra louts" flouting the rules of the road have appeared in the local press, and councillors are accusing the two-wheeled brigade of shattering the tranquillity by thundering through on organised rides. Claims have even been made of cyclists defecating on village greens.

Ian Huggins, from the Esher suburbs, is leading the anti-cycling campaign, and more than 3,000 people have signed a petition to "Stop Surrey being turned into a cycle track". Mr Huggins, who runs a clay pigeon shoot, said the rural lanes that featured on the 2012 Olympic cycle race and are now in the annual Prudential RideLondon event have become "no-go areas" for motorists as the county's beauty spots are "smothered" with cyclists.

"Rural Surrey's Olympic legacy is for the roads to be used by thousands of cyclists at a time for any event they want to organise. We've been totally conned," he said from his home, which sits on the 100-mile route.

Surrey County Council and RideLondon organisers insist that residents were properly consulted and point out that last year's 16,000-rider event helped raise £7m for charity. The ballot for this year's RideLondon has now closed with more than 80,000 people hoping for one of the expected 20,000 places.

Outside Mr Huggins's suburban home three cyclists are changing a punctured inner tube. One is Yanto Barker, one of Britain's top professional cyclists. "The whole situation [with local residents] is very much 50/50," he said. "There are good drivers and bad drivers, just like there are bad cyclists and good cyclists."

Mr Barker is quick to get back on the road, leaving Matt Barbet, a presenter on Daybreak, struggling with an inner tube: "It's complete nimbyism. The roads aren't just for cars, they are here to be shared."

Mr Huggins claims residents are being "kettled in their homes by 300 cycling events" since summer 2012. Surrey County Council says it has now asked the Government to take action on hundreds of unregistered events in the county, while the Department for Transport said it is "updating the regulation" surrounding cycling events on public roads.

British Cycling, which governs the sport in the UK, rejects Mr Huggins's figures, pointing out that of 2,000 registered cycle events last year, only 44 took place in Surrey.

In the New Forest, there are fewer organised events but tensions are arguably higher. Last year, metal tacks and mud were thrown on the road in two separate cycling events.

Brockenhurst Conservative councillor Maureen Holding said that cyclists put off high-end tourists with foul language and are "deliberately slowing down motorists" on narrow lanes, and had been seen "literally defecating on a local green".

The situation is so bad that the New Forest National Park Authority has issued a code of conduct for cyclists and put event organisers "on notice" that it may ban so-called sportive rides.

At the headquarters of the National Park Authority, deputy chairman Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre said that he wants to encourage riders to come to the park for "quiet enjoyment". However, he said that the speed and behaviour of the cyclists, coupled with the frequency of the events, was causing "enormous upset".

This upset has led to Hampshire Police opening an investigation to see if two rides established by Wiggle, a major cycle-kit supplier, and run by UK Cycling Events have caused a public nuisance.

Event organiser Martin Barden said that the events, which attract thousands of riders, are properly organised and provide plenty of facilities.

At the Fox and Hounds pub in Lyndhurst, in the heart of the New Forest, manager Matthew Price is a big fan of the cyclists who pack out his beer garden every summer for "pints and pies", but local horse rider Chloe Hughes, who works behind the bar, is more cautious.

"Most [cyclists] are fine and slow down," she said. "But you can tell the cyclists from outside the New Forest because they don't slow down, and they spook the horses as they fly by."

Martin Balk, secretary of the New Forest Cycle Club, said, "New Forest ponies don't have a problem with cyclists.... It's the riders of other horses and some of the residents who are highly strung."