Pic: Andy MacAndlish
A war of words has broken out between the Carron Valley Development Group and Forestry Commission Scotland, two members of the Carron Valley Partnership working on developing the readily-accessible Central Belt trails in Scotland. Or rather, it would appear, not working on, for CVDG’s beef is that the Partnership has “descended into a farce because of the way [that] the Forestry Commission has run the partnership.”
It appears that CVDG and FCS have been at loggerheads for some time, but the final straw was the news (revealed in Scots newspaper the Sunday Herald) that CVDG has been forced to hand £15,000 of grant money back to the EU as a result, says CVDG, of Forestry Commission “prevarication”. A further £85,000 is in jeopardy, and Carron Valley Development Group is now calling for a fresh start and a new partnership.
The full Carron Valley Partnership comprises CVDG, North Lanarkshire Council, Stirling Council, Scottish Water, Central Scotland Forest Trust, Clanranald Trust and the Forestry Commission. CVDG say that, “All partners (except FCS) have acted with utmost integrity and in good faith.” The Partnership was formed in 2006 to develop mountain bike trails and other facilities in the area given the lack of accessible MTB trail centres in Central Scotland – the well-known and hugely popular 7stanes trail centres are all in the Borders.
March 2006 saw the official opening of the first phase of the Carron Valley trails, and they’ve been visited by over 15,000 riders since then. CVDG was the driving force behind the initial phase of development, but the Partnership was subsequently set up at the behest of FCS to involve all the – and we hesitate to use the word – “stakeholders” in the project. According to CVDG, though, the Partnership “has proved to be an FC talking shop”, with nothing delivered in the eighteen months since it was set up.
CVDG developed detailed plans for a number of new development phases which would see the network of trails expanded to allow riders of all abilities to enjoy the trails, as well as build or improve trails for walkers. These plans were presented to the CVP and after some minor adjustments were formally approved by the Partnership and submitted to FCS for ‘landowner’ consent.
This is where the trouble started. CVDG claim that the rewriting of project plans by landowners the Forestry Commission without the consent of the partnership has been an attempt to “systematically sabotage” the project. The resulting delays have resulted in £15,000 being handed back and over £85,000 of additional funding bids are in jeopardy. Attempts by CVDG to get hold of copies of revised plans have been refused by the Commission and even requests under the Freedom of Information Act have been turned down.
Niall Thomson, Chairman of CVDG , said “Carron Valley and the Campsie Hills have been used for recreation by generations of Central Scotland’s people. A huge swathe of this land is in public ownership and it is Forestry Commission’s duty to manage it for the benefit of us – the public. It is bitterly disappointing to see a public body use every bureaucratic trick in the book to thwart a project which will benefit our communities. Why should this be when we have such a solid cross section of support from two major Councils, Scottish Water, Riders, Sports Clubs, local communities and both local MSPs? The Forestry Commission has paid consultants tens of thousands of pounds to tell them of the need to develop mountain bike trails further in this area and they have completely ignored that advice.”
Former Green MSP Mark Ruskell, who has now joined CVDG, said “Many ordinary people cannot afford to journey hours by car to go mountain biking, the Forestry Commission have a responsibility to develop their forests in the central belt close to where people live by working in partnership with communities. It’s a disgrace that their cynical games in the partnership have now rubbished years of work by CVDG and have led to public grant money being lost to the area.”
Cumbernauld and Kilsyth MSP Cathie Craigie has now intervened in order to organise a meeting in the Scottish Parliament between CVDG and the Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission, Hugh Insley to help resolve the impasse.
Niall Thomson, Chairman of CVDG added,”We need a complete change in the Forestry Commission approach to this partnership, it has gone beyond a farce and there is no way any of the partners can work with the Forestry Commission unless they are prepared to re-establish trust and build on the huge success that Carron Valley has become.”
It’s not just Carron Valley, either – we’ve become aware of other volunteer-led trail development groups having “issues” with FCS. After all the effort and investment that has gone into the undoubtedly popular 7stanes trails, it would be a real shame for some of that momentum to not reach to other parts of Scotland.
Forestry Commission Scotland, meanwhile, “rejects the accusations” of CVDG. A spokesperson said:
“Forestry Commission Scotland has played a key role in
developing and investing in mountain biking and helping
Scotland achieve Global Superstar status. We are really
enthusiastic about mountain biking and we are going to
continue to keep promoting it for years to come.
“We are very aware that there is on-going demand for trails
in lots of other areas in Scotland, and of course in the
Central Belt. Everyone would like trails close by but we have
to know that any new facilities are sustainable and
importantly compliment existing facilities. They must also be
properly managed and resourced in the future.
“Carron Valley is one of many mountain bike trails in
Scotland on the national forest estate. Any developments at
this location need to fit in with our aims for a more
inclusive recreation experience. We intend to provide
improved facilities for all who visit Carron Valley.
“We have a meeting scheduled with CVDG and are looking
forward to discussing the future of recreation at Carron Valley.”