CAMPAIGNERS are set to launch a legal offensive against £300,000 works to a Meon Valley bridleway amid growing concerns for user safety.

The Meon Valley Railway Line Users Group wants to take on civic chiefs who they say are laying a rough, dangerous surface without essential planning permission.

They have hired a solicitor after raising £3,000 in just three days.

It comes amid several reported sightings of cars and motorbikes illegally using the route between West Meon and Wickham.

As part of the £310,000 project, which began in September, Hampshire County Council turned a section of the trail into restricted byway, formally banning motor vehicles and enshrining its long-standing use by horse riders.

Martin Montague, campaign organiser, said: “Cars are going to be notoriously dangerous for all user groups, especially the more vulnerable and that will be the disabled, the equestrian users and the cyclists.

“It could result in a very serious injury and those are the same issues we will face longer term unless the surface is sorted out as well.”

The group has hired a solicitor at Southampton law firm Paris Smith LLP and hopes to force Hampshire County Council into a retrospective planning application.

Meanwhile, crowds are set to march through Wickham on Sunday, May 24, to show their opposition.

But the county council and their project partners at South Downs National Park Authority deny consent is necessary and say the new surface will benefit everyone.

Campaigners hope a planning application will reopen public consultation and eventually lead to a split path with hard and soft surfaces.

“People are wholeheartedly supporting it,” Mr Montague added. “I think it’s fantastic.

“If you’re a runner or a mountain biker or an equestrian user [and] you want to ride on a softer surface, it would be available for them to do so.”

He said the county council’s attitude towards the campaign changed dramatically after a public meeting earlier this month , where 200 users representing dog walkers, equestrians, runners and cyclists turned out to question the work.

A Hampshire County Council spokesman said: “Using a motor vehicle on a public bridleway or restricted byway, without lawful authority, is a criminal office under the Road Traffic Act and any instances should be reported directly to the police.”

South Downs National Park Authority declined to comment.