Horse riders have galloped into action over a plan to tarmac one of the few Suffolk bridleways west of Mildenhall.
Suffolk County Council last week announced a £220,000 plan to tarmac a bridleway between West Row and Mildenhall to create a safe cycleway.
But riders, backed by the British Horse Society (BHS), say the plan will put riders and cyclists at risk and they are angry that county rights of way officials failed to consult with equestrian bodies.
Trudy Lovatt, who has a stable yard in West Row, said riders use the route to get to Mildenhall Woods at weekends, when roads through Mildenhall industrial estate are quiet.
“Cyclists approach swiftly and silently and some weave between groups of horses,” she said. “I was involved in an incident with one my horse kicked. I warned him to keep back where it was too narrow to get past and he didn’t.”
Cyclists can legally use the bridleway now, but her concern is that tarmac will allow them to go faster and more quietly.
“The other issue of tarmac is how will they stop the racing cyclists?” she added. “It’s not for motorised vehicles, but how will they police that?
“It’s in the wrong place. It should be alongside the main road where it can be used by walkers, cyclists and runners going to the air base.”
Elizabeth Barrett, a BHS activist and leader of the Camino Riders bridleway group, said: “I think its absolutely appalling. It will encourage the ‘head down, flat out’ cyclists and there are going to be accidents. Horses don’t hear them coming.
“What worries me is if they get this through here, we could lose every bridleway in the county. It would be unstoppable.”
The BHS’ acting Suffolk rights of way officer Bryan Freemantle told the county that while there was no legal requirement to consult, it would have been courteous and sensible.
But it is not just riders objecting. Bill Phillips, whose home is next to the West Row start of the bridleway, said: “They’re calling it an upgrade of the bridle path, but they’re destroying it. They’re putting two-and-a-half metres of tarmac down — you might as well walk down the road.”
West Row’s county councillor Colin Noble said people had been asking for a cycleway between West Row and Mildenhall for as long as he has been a councillor so the county obtained a £150,000 government grant to make it possible.
“The opportunity was there, the funding was there and it was what the community had asked for,” he said. “I fully accept, not these members of the community. I’m willing to sit down and talk this through with people.”
He said the issue of how cyclists behaved round horses was one of education and said a cycleway along the road was a ‘financial non starter’ because it had been costed at £1.2 million because it had to be to highway standards.
He added that villagers’ fears, expressed on Facebook, that it might lead to school buses being withdrawn were unfounded because the distance used to judge entitlement is based on a radius from the school, not distance travelled.
“If you were entitled to free school transport today, you will be entitled to free school transport tomorrow,” he said.
Mrs Lovatt is inviting riders to a ‘raising awareness’ day to ride the bridleway on Saturday September 21. Those going by trailer or horsebox can park in her yard at Popes Farm, Pamments Lane, West Row.