£5m chair on rails will be UK first

electric chairlift similar to the one proposed at Innerleithen
electric chairlift similar to the one proposed at Innerleithen

PLANS to construct the UK’s first purpose-built mountain bike chairlift outside Innerleithen have taken a major step forward this week.

AIMup, the charitable community group behind the £5million project, has formally submitted an application for outline consent for the so-called multi-use mechanical uplift to Scottish Borders Council.

The equipment, which resembles a fairground roller-coaster, will convey up to 1,200 people an hour up the steep, currently wooded slope, to Plora Rig between Innerleithen and Traquair – acknowledged as one of the most challenging mountain biking courses in Europe.

The lift will allow gentler, less demanding tracks to be opened up further up the hill and will offer easy access to walkers wishing to scale the commanding landmark of nearby Minch Moor.

Last month, SBC leader David Parker indicated the project, which AIMup says will create 127 new local jobs and boost the local economy by £6million a year, was worthy of support from the council which is putting economic development at the heart of its manifesto.

And Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell, executive member for economic development, said the structure would be “a great boost for activity-based tourism in Tweeddale”.

“Not only might this scheme link up with the Innerleithen to Peebles cycle way, but will improve the accessibility of a great swathe of forestry for recreational cyclists and walkers,” said Mr Bell.

“The local team of businesses and enthusiasts who have put together this adventurous investment proposal are to be commended.”

However, as a member of SBC’s planning committee, he said he had yet to review details of the application, submitted on Monday, and was thus unable to pre-judge its merits. “I do, however, hope it will be considered as soon as possible,” he added.

That is an aspiration shared by Deirdre Latimer, treasurer of AIMup, an action group formed two years ago to progress the chairlift proposal which had been highlighted as feasible in a study published in 2008 by Scottish Enterprise.

“Obtaining outline planning consent and without too much delay is absolutely essential to turning this dream into a reality,” said Mrs Latimer. “With consent in place, we can begin in earnest our overtures for funding.”

She revealed that representatives of Wiegand, a German firm specialising in chairlift and toboggan run equipment, had visited the site recently and considered it “ideal” for the installation of its latest mechanical uplit in which riders are comfortably seated. It offers, says the company, “an exciting adventure trip”.

The fact that the rail mounted system is below the treeline is understood to have allayed concerns from one of the two landowners involved: Traquair Estate. The other required land is owned by Forestry Commission Scotland which considers the facility will dovetail with, and enhance, its major mountain biking centre at Glentress near Peebles.

Already with 3,500 Facebook followers, the AIMup group, says Mrs Latimer, came together when progress on the project appeared to have stalled.

“We are a strong group made up of local business, architects, engineers, lawyers and mountain bikers and we decided to take things into our own hands.

“We have learned lessons from resorts and chairlift operators in the UK, Europe and Canada and a huge amount of work has got us to this stage.

“It is all very exciting.”