No public funds for Innerleithen’s £5.5m mountain bike chairlift

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A public meeting will be held in Innerleithen next month to discuss the future of ambitious plans to install a £5.5m mountain bike chairlift at nearby Traquair Forest.

It follows confirmation that public agencies involved in developing the Tweed Valley as a major tourist destination are not prepared to put funds into the project.

The news has been met with disappointment by AIMUp, the community group which has promoted the initiative since 2011 and which received the overwhelming endorsement of townsfolk the following year.

In that ballot, 91% of the 2,722 residents who voted – a 66% turnout – backed the project and its bid to develop “a major national attraction” on their doorstep.

But last year, a consultant’s report commissioned by the public agency-dominated Tweed Valley Mountain Biking Stakeholders Group (TVMBSG) cast doubt on projected visitor numbers and the ongoing sustainability of a mechanical uplift in that location.

Stakeholders – including Scottish Borders Council, Scottish Enterprise, Forest Enterprise Scotland and Visit Scotland – announced last week that public finance would not be forthcoming.

“We understand there will be disappointment at the decision, but uncertainty around the level of demand and financial viability of the scheme means it would be a high risk project for the public sector at this time,” said TVMBSG chairman Councillor Stuart Bell, whose Tweeddale East ward includes Innerleithen.

He explained the decision had been informed by a new study by another consultant which had, on balance, confirmed the pessimistic findings of the first report.

“It may be that with major private sector investment to move the project forward, the scheme could attract some public sector funding, but currently, when public money is very tight, that is not the case.”

AIMUp’s Ian Campbell said a public meeting would be held in Innerleithen on Tuesday, April 19, at a time and venue still to be arranged.

“We need to know from the community if the public agencies are right to regard the project as risky or if the idea of making the Tweed Valley the greatest mountain biking destination it can be is still worth fighting for,” said Mr Campbell.

“We utterly disagree with this conclusion regarding financial viability.”

He added: “The public agencies have accepted the findings of consultants they appointed which include glaring errors in the expert analysis provided.

“It seems that despite all the work we have put into this process so far and all the comforting words of politicians, none are currently willing to show the ambition to back a project which will have the game-changing impact our community so desperately needs right now.”

Urging a large turnout at the meeting, Mr Campbell added: “We want people to come along, make their voices heard and challenge our public agencies and elected representatives to do more.”

The Tweed Valley Forest Park, which includes the mountain bike trails at Innerleithen and Glentress near Peebles, attracts over 330,000 visitors a year.