COUNCILLOR Brian Coleman, controversial cabinet member for the environment on Barnet Council, may have single-handedly wrecked one of the most beautiful walks in the borough by turning it from a footpath, pure and simple, into a footpath and cycle path.

That’s the charge levelled by Dennis Pepper, chair of the Friends of Windsor Open Space (FOWOS).

He claims the change was made secretly, behind the backs of residents, after the Dollis Valley Greenwalk, a quiet footpath which runs for ten miles along Dollis Brook from Oat Mount to the Hampstead Heath extension, was awarded £400,000 from the London Mayor’s Help a London Park for improvements.

The grant went to those London parks which attracted most votes in an online poll, and Mr Pepper, after consultation with the council, ran a campaign to get local residents to vote for it, putting up posters, knocking on doors, and making sure the vote came out.

Only ten parks, out of 46 which wanted the money, were going to get it.

“We were delighted to get the money – until we learned what Barnet Council intended to do with it” said Mr Pepper.

Officials in Cllr Coleman’s department discovered that there was another pot of money to be had, this time from Transport for London. But TfL wanted a quid pro quo: a cycle path.

Cllr Coleman agreed to this, in return for an extra £250,000, and, according to Mr Pepper, signed an order adding cycling to the uses of the path.

Mr Pepper said: “The people who turned out in large numbers to get the grant have been betrayed by Barnet Council.

“In order to obtain the additional funding, and without consulting anyone, Mr Coleman changed the use of the greenwalk, adding cycling to its uses. As soon as we found out what he had done, we appealed to Mr Coleman to reverse his decision. He has so far refused to do so.

“This is a quiet, narrow, rural walk, regularly used by elderly and disabled people and families with prams and buggies. Already – when cycling is supposed to be banned – there have been accidents and some ugly confrontations, when speeding cycles mow down walkers. When it officially becomes a cycle path, most of the people who now use it will be driven away.

“We need cycle paths, to get cyclists away from the traffic, and we need to encourage people out of their cars. But simply dumping cyclists onto existing footpaths is a lazy quick fix.

“Instead of providing dedicated cycle paths, Councillor Coleman has put his signature on a plan which will have the walkers regularly jostling for space with cyclists along the narrow paths on the banks of the brook.

“It will edge out the people who want to walk quietly along the brook. They don’t want to be constantly looking over their shoulders for a speeding bicycle, or forced into the mud by imperious bicycle bells. And they shouldn’t have to.

“We have a horrific example of what happens when you mix cyclists and walkers. An eight-year-old boy had his leg broken by two teenagers riding racing bikes in Hendon Park. When that starts happening on the banks of the brook – and it will – people will be pointing to Cllr Coleman’s decision as the cause of it.”

Cllr Coleman was not available for comment. In a statement in March he said: “The Dollis Valley Green Walk is a much loved green space by many of our residents and I am very pleased this grant will help to protect and enhance it for future generations.”

Francis Beckett is a freelance journalist who writes for national newspapers and magazines, including the Guardian, the Independent and the New Statesman.