THE takeover of a floundering mountain biking project in the Innerleithen area by a group of local residents has been hailed as a fantastic example of what can be done by members of the public.
An application for planning permission for the scheme, at Plora Rig, which is budgeted at £3million to £4million, will go to Scottish Borders Council (SBC) soon.
Five years ago, Scottish Enterprise commissioned a report into the commercial feasibility of a bike park that would use existing mountain bike routes in the area. The development, proposed for a site at Traquair, included a chairlift, cafe and bike hire and a network of mixed-ability trails.
The year-long study, costing £130,000, covered a full market assessment, site access and layout, building design, chairlift design, services, trail development, business plan, economic impact assessment and environmental impact scoping study.
It concluded that the project would be unique in Scotland and the UK. The Tweed Valley is now an internationally recognised mountain-biking centre providing world-class facilities.
Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) recently opened a new £8.4million visitor centre at Glentress, comprising 160-seat cafe, bike hire, shop, shower and toilet facilities.
It has been the largest ever investment by FCS in a single visitor attraction in Scotland and attracts more visitors than Eilean Donan Castle or the Royal Yacht Britannia.
But competition for these visitors is increasing and investment is needed to update the mountain biking opportunities in the rest of the Tweed Valley.
That is where the AIMUp group came in. Formed in 2010, it comprised local residents and businesses keen to support the idea of the new mountain bike uplift facility.
However, the price tag for the scheme at Traquair was between £10million and £12million and since the study was carried out, none of the agencies involved had been able to come up with a way of delivering the project at the scale envisaged.
So, after becoming frustrated at the lack of a solution on how to deliver the project, AIMUp’s members set about developing their own, smaller and more affordable, version.
Drawing on experts who live in the community, a proposal costed at £3.5million-£4million has been drawn up. It has a lower environmental impact and an alternative, but proven, funicular-type uplift system that would be open to all forest users, including cyclists.
As well as a base station area and top station, the proposal includes an all-weather summer/winter toboggan run – which would be the first of its kind in Scotland – trail development, a walking/cyclist bridge across the Tweed and car parking closer to Innerleithen to ensure economic spin-off for the town.
As well as costing less, the group believes this solution will also achieve greater visitor numbers and more community benefit.
The area on which the bike park would be constructed is owned by FCS and Traquair Estate and discussions have been held with them.
At their meeting last week, SBC councillors were full of praise for AIMUp’s work so far and approved a recommendation to set up a short-life working group in the council to provide information, advice and support.
SBC’s spokesperson on economic development, Councillor Vicky Davidson said: “They [AIMUp] have done a fantastic job. They have reduced the capital costs involved, yet at the same time increasing the projected number of visitors.
“Not only would this be a great benefit to mountain bikers but also to walkers, families and so on. This is a fantastic proposal which will be a huge boost both to the Innerleithen area, and to the wider Borders as well.”
AIMUp steering group member Richard Latimer confirmed to TheSouthern this week, that an application for outline planning permission will shortly be lodged.
He explained: “There are a number of different funding models open to us, including European sources. But if we can gain planning consent it will give us something tangible to take forward into the funding process.
“I think we’re all reasonably enthusiastic about the sources of available funding. It has been a tremendous process discovering just what a wealth of expertise exists within our local community.”
Open public consultation meetings regarding the proposed development are to be held on February 19 and 22 in the Memorial Hall, Innerleithen.