Batty scheme gets bike park off to a flyer

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A £5.5million mountain bike centre near Innerleithen has been given the green light by councillors this week.

At Tuesday’s meeting of Scottish Borders Council planning committee, planners said the scheme to build a mechanical chairlift, toboggan run and visitor centre on land east of Traquair House could be accommodated without disturbing a colony of protected bats nearby.

The bats occupy a small area of woodland which needs to be felled to provide access to the bike park, but officials explained there was sufficient land to modify the junction to create a safe access and at the same time protect the bats.

The community group behind the scheme, Action on the Innerleithen Mechanical Uplift (AIMUp), will now start the process of raising more than £5m to fund the scheme.

The 1.4km uplift system is based upon a German rail-mounted design which is of low profile without the need for towers or overhead wires on the route towards the summit of Plora Rigg. The toboggan run will be of a similar design, running 1.1km back to the base station.

Planners received 112 representations on the application, all of which have been in support of the project which is seen as an extension of existing mountain bike facilities within Traquair Forest, already one of southern Scotland’s 7 Stanes mountain bike centres.

Ian Campbell, a member of the AIMUp team, said the group was delighted with the planning committee’s decision.

He said “This is obviously great news for the project, Innerleithen and, we believe, the Scottish Borders. With planning approval, we have something tangible to progress discussions with potential funders.

“We are also hopeful that the decision on our NFLS application to lease forest estate land will be made before the end of the year.”

Speaking afterwards, local Scottish Borders councillor Stuart Bell (Tweeddale East, SNP), also the local authority’s executive member for economic development, said he has been impressed with what he called the “wisdom” of AIMUp in promoting its scheme not just as an installation to get mountain bikers up the hill more easily, but as an initiative to help raise economic activity and improve the prosperity of Innerleithen, Walkerburn and the wider area of Tweeddale. Mr Bell told us: “The planning application, which was approved on Monday, will not just be a facility for downhill enthusiasts, but will help get more leisurely mountain bikers up to a plateau on Plora Hill where they can enjoy less demanding blue and red runs, and will open up the hill for walkers.

“This, together with the spectacular toboggan-run, will significantly expand leisure options for young an old coming to Innerleithen, and strengthen the Scottish Borders as Scotland’s premier cycling destination.

“Increasing the numbers of visitors to the area will increase their length of stay, which will benefit local shops, cafés, hotels and guest houses.

“The challenge now is to get the backing from public and private partners to fund the £5m or so of investment that is required – no small task in these difficult economic times.

“But I’m sure that the enthusiastic group of volunteers are up for this challenge.”