COUNTRYSIDE and equestrian chiefs have rejected claims that a Meon Valley bridleway is being wrecked by resurfacing.

Hampshire County Council says controversial works on the old Meon railway line will allow access for families, walkers and cyclists as well as equestrians, many of whom are outraged by the plans.

As reported in last week’s Hampshire Chronicle, more than 2,000 people have joined an online campaign against the £310,000 revamp. They fear it will reduce the 10-mile route between West Meon and Wickham to unpleasant gravel, threatening wildlife, ruining country views and keeping horses to a walk.

But the claims have been rebutted by the county council, its partners at South Downs National Park Authority, cycling groups and the British Horse Society.

They say stone scalping laid on stretches of the path, criticised for being too hard, will improve safety for everyone.

The British Horse Society, which approved the surface after consultation, said in a statement: “Although we understand the frustrations from riders in the change of surface, the improved surface will make it suitable for all intended users.

“It is important that we, the equestrian community, are responsible users of rights of way and are able to appreciate the needs of others who wish to enjoy the same safe access to our wonderful countryside as ourselves.”

Surfacing was paused last week due to growing feedback but has now resumed, said Cllr Keith Chapman, Hampshire County Council’s executive member for recreation and countryside.

He added: “While we understand the frustrations that some people have recently expressed, it’s unfortunate that this has actually been in relation to unfinished sections of the route, which are still under construction, and currently closed for safety reasons.

“By repairing the surface, we’re creating a safe, high quality, family-friendly route, which is in keeping with this unique rural setting – also offering easier access for walkers, cyclists, horse riders, carriage drivers, people with disabilities and families.”

Parts of the old railway line have been designated restricted byway, formally allowing the riding and carriage driving which has taken place there for decades.

Andrew Lee, director of strategy and partnerships at South Downs National Park Authority, said: “We’d like to see everyone having respect for the rights of others and hope in time that this group will be happy to share this fantastic resource with other people.”

Campaigners are set to meet South Downs officials at a public meeting in Wickham Community Centre tonight. It starts at 7pm.