Closing main road laybys would be ‘disaster’ for Forest, claims senior councillor

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Layby on A31
One of the large laybys on the A35 at Markway Hill, near Burley

GETTING rid of laybys on two New Forest main roads would be an “absolute disaster”, a district councillor has warned.

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The gravelled areas on the A35 at Markway Hill between Holmsley and Lyndhurst, and on the A337 between Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst, are set to be shut off and returned to natural vegetation.

The move is part of a land swap deal between Hampshire County Council and Forestry England (FE) as part of the replacement of the rusting Holmsley Bridge that will realign a quarter-mile section of the A35.

To compensate for this loss of habitat, land no longer needed as highway – the current bridge and carriageway either side of the bridge plus the laybys and gravel verges – will be given to FE. That would mean a net gain to FE of 376 square metres of land.

But Cllr Michael Harris, speaking at the latest Brockenhurst Parish Council meeting, called for the verges plan to be halted, claiming locals and visitors will suffer.

“This is an absolute disaster waiting to happen,” said Cllr Harris, who is New Forest District Council’s cabinet member for local economic development, property and innovation.

“It’s going to affect the Forest more than people can imagine, it’s going to affect the economy, businesses, visitors and residents of the New Forest.”

His comments support claims by fellow Cllr Kevin Whittle, a commoner and HGV driver, who has said lorry drivers use the laybys as crucial resting points. He explained they  are restricted on how long they can travel for, and they may also require a safe haven if their vehicles suffer mechanical problems.

Work on the new Holmsley bridge is expected to start in March 2020. It will be built parallel to the existing crossing, which will be demolished when construction is complete.

To get the go-ahead for such a protected site, HCC needs a range of permissions, including from the verderers, national park authority, Forestry England and Natural England.

Cllr Harris was insistent further lobbying was needed and a second on-site meeting be arranged with HCC engineers.

“Sending an email to them won’t be enough – we need to stand on site with them,” he said.

The councillors agreed to write to HCC to raise their concerns.

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