Branching out at Glentress

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It already attracts more than 300,000 visitors a year and is rated one of the United Kingdom’s top mountain biking destinations.

Glentress Forest near Peebles is also popular with walkers, bird-watchers and horse-riders, thanks to an investment by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) of an estimated £9million during the last 15 years.

Financial constraints on such public bodies and the need for Glentress not to rest on its laurels in an increasingly-competitive outdoor tourism market prompted the commission to announce in 2013 that it was preparing a masterplan for the future development of the 1,600-hectare complex.

Two years on and after extensive consultation with a range of stakeholders, that draft blueprint was endorsed on Monday by Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee.

That committee will now seek public feedback over the next 12 weeks.

The document, subject to amendment, will then become embedded in the council’s Local Development Plan, which is due to be formally adopted next year.

The masterplan makes provision for the erection of 65 seasonal-occupancy log cabins in the area known as Buzzards Nest.

The commercial hub of the forest – the area around Glentress Peel, where a café and bikeshop currently operate – is also highlighted for potential further development with opportunities from new arrival and an indoor activity buildings.

The scheme also envisages at least 300 additional parking spaces – almost doubling the current provision.

A number of activity areas are proposed in the vicinity of Glentress Peel.

These include an area for public art and short, circular walks; an area for standalone bike skills; and a pump track for the many novice mountain bikers.

More advanced practitioners of the sport will be well served with an extensive free ride area.

“We want to welcome all visitors and appeal to the under-utilised family market,” said Hugh McKay, FCS’s Glentress-based communities and recreation manager at Monday’s meeting.

Mr McKay went on: “We also need to ensure that future recreation and forestry activities dovetail together and are co-ordinated in a sustainable way.”

The blueprint has been welcomed by Councillor Stuart Bell, the council’s executive member with responsibility for economic development, whose Tweeddale East ward includes Glentress.

Councillor Bell commented: “Extending the range of attractions at Glentress by adding new activity areas will attract more visitors and particularly cater for families with a range of skills and interests.”

He added: “I see the masterplan as a terrific incentive for the private sector to get involved

“And I am particularly hopeful a developer will come forward to look at investing in the self-catering cabin accommodation which is highlighted in the framework as a significant opportunity.”