LAYBYS on two New Forest main roads are set to disappear after Brockenhurst councillors put the brakes on an opposition campaign.
As reported in the A&T, 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.
Brockenhurst Parish Council had backed a campaign against the move by one of its members, Cllr Kevin Whittle. But at the authority’s latest meeting members “reluctantly” agreed to back off after new information had come to light.
The loss of the laybys is part of a land swap deal between Hampshire County Council and Forestry England (FE) that will see an area of Forest needed by the council to replace the rusting Holmsley Bridge and 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.
Cllr Whittle, who is also a commoner and HGV driver, said losing these areas would hinder truckers who use them for rest stops or if their vehicles encounter mechanical problems.
He will carry on his fight, but the parish council decided to withdraw its opposition after hearing from chairman Cllr Pete Wales.
Cllr Wales said it had come to light, following a meeting between members and Hampshire County Council traffic chiefs, that the Markway Hill layby was technically classed as a “run-off area” because of its size.
To meet the legal definition of a lay-by, the site would have to be levelled, extended and feature a traffic island – work which could cost somewhere in the region of £300,000, he added.
The work to replace Holmsley Bridge will see it moved slightly to a new position – but the new structure will encroach onto land that has various protections, including SSSI and RAMSAR status, Cllr Wales added.
That land is also subject to new government habitat regulations, meaning an alternative plan to save the laybys already proposed by Cllr Whittle – namely moving a cattle grid elsewhere to try to secure more grazing land – is not feasible.
The new bridge plan must get planning permission, and during that process Natural England, which wants the laybys gone, will be a key stakeholder. If it objects the plan would likely fail, Cllr Wales said.
HCC has said that if the laybys were somehow saved, it might decide to close them off anyway due to safety concerns around drivers speeding past them at high speeds and having to slow down considerably to pull into Markway Hill.
Were the parish council to continue its objection, it must go through Southampton Magistrates’ Court, a potential costly process it stood no definite chance of winning, Cllr Wales also pointed out.
During a brief debate, Cllr Whittle maintained his stance and suggested one last alternative; that HCC explore whether a stretch of land between the White Buck in Burley and the Naked Man feature which is currently tarmacked be converted to grazing land to save the laybys.
Parish councillors agreed to write to the county council and raise the issue formally, but also voted by majority to drop their opposition.