In 1991 the South Downs Way was extended to Winchester but there was a “missing link” across the Meon Valley. A Public Inquiry in 1993 failed to approve any route. In 2004 a second PI was held to examine four possible routes, but between them English Nature and an affected private landowner objected to all the possibilites. English Nature did not want a route over Beacon Hill National Nature Reserve and the landowner did not want any route over his estate.
In late 2004 the Inspector reported and agreed with Hampshire County Council that the best solution was a footpath route over Beacon Hill NNR and a seperate bridleway over the private landowner's estate, a compromise between the advantages of a route over the beautiful NNR and the damage that a new bridleway might cause to it. He accepted HCC's prefered options with modifications - mainly that a route over the NNR, put forward as an alternative bridleway by the private landowner, should be used instead of the originally proposed footpath route over the reserve.
HCC and the Countryside Agency were hoping to open the route for summer 2006, but the private landowner and a local resident objected to to the detailed changes proposed, claiming that the new A32 road crossing was not safe enough for equestrian use. The PI therefore reopened from 10 - 12 May 2006 for round 3. Following an exhaustive examination of the issues in Octboer 2006 the Inspector agreed with HCC and the Countryside Agency that the proposed crossing design does indeed meet Department for Transport guidelines. The opposition had vigorously contested this view.
There are likely to be further legal delays, depending on whether the opposition continues to use all the legal opportunities open to them to object to the new path, so users should not expect a new route to open before summer 2008. We are slowly getting there however, in spite of the array of experts hired to oppose us.
For further information contact the South Downs Way National Trail Officer on 01243 558716