The problem with land is that there is only a finite amount of it. When it is a piece of woodland on the outskirts of a city then everyone thinks they own a little piece of it – usually because they can remember their first dog walk, bike ride or quickie with the hottest girl in school, that took place there.
Ask most people where Plymbridge woods, nr. Plymouth is and they will wrongly identify it as Cann Woods. Plymbridge is a relatively small (by Welsh trail centre standards) piece of woodland on the outskirts of Plymouth opposite the forested Cann Woods. It is surrounded by houses, business parks and there’s even a camp site at one end. For the mountain bike riders of Plymouth it is usually a bit of a side dish before heading across to Cann Woods or up onto Dartmoor. It used to be much bigger but houses and industrial units have eaten away at the wood’s perimeter. The National Trust owns the woodland and is its protective guardian; they are keen to expand its use – in one instance to make it accessible to mountain bikers with a proper trail, but also provide better factilities to walkers and family-orientated bike riders in a similar way to most other trail centres across the UK. The trails will be constructed by the hugely well respected team of Architrail, Phil Saxena’s crew that have a reputation for building trails that are safe, last for years and are great to ride. They are not the cheapest but as far as I can see they are now known to be the best.
Plans for this new trail centre have gained great momentum. Unprecedented levels of support from the local cycling community and no real objections saw the proposals sail through the initial planning meetings, however many local residents are now up in arms at the eleventh hour about the plans, as they see ‘their’ local woods under threat from the motorbike riding, loutish, noisy, trail destroying, music playing, litter leaving, off-road cyclists.
Of course this is quite simply a territorial battle, a NIMBY (not in my back yard!) campaign by local residents who have had the woods to themselves for years. Whilst it is owned by the National Trust very few of these local people are actually members of the National Trust and even fewer have gone into the woods and helped work or maintain the woodland as volunteers. This can be seen in the woods as many trails used by both bike riders and walkers are in a terrible state, with large amounts of surface erosion, overgrown paths and no real clear sign of organised usage. Of course no mountain bikers have done any work in there, either but the National Trust hopes that with the installation of decent trails some of the stewardship of the woods can be passed onto local trail groups, too.
The argument put forward by local residents is that their quality of life will be ruined by a cycle path in the woods, that increased parking in roads adjacent to the woods will cause them problems, that they may have to pay for parking in the National Trust car park and then the ridiculous such as motorbikes possibly using the trails and walkers being run over by bikes on the bike trails. Most of these arguments have no foundation, or a shaky one at that, there is no plan for parking charges, most people ride to the trails anyway and as with most trail centres signage and gates prevent usage from getting out of control.
The proposed trails are on the outskirts of Plymouth and 90% of the residents of Plymouth have to face the issues of poor parking provision, noise and anti-social behaviour every day as part of life in a growing city. What most of Plymouth doesn’t have is easy access to outdoor environments (unless you count the sea) and a cheap and easy way of getting exercise in green space. When combined with the huge increase in cycle paths and designated routes across the city these trails at Plymbridge will become a destination for cyclists of all ages. They’ll allow cyclists to literally and metaphorically expand their horizons as an access to Dartmoor National Park or simply offer a chance to develop the skills to ride a bike off road. Whatever their intended user group, they are a great thing and a starting point for a city that has a lot of catching up to do in terms of clean, green outdoor sporting and educational facilities when in truth the vision for Plymouth could easily herald it as the outdoor capital of the UK.
The problem with these minor territorial battles is that in most cases the ‘haters’ (as a local teenager would say) usually get their way as no-one from the more positive camp shows up to offer any support. For this exact reason local cyclists and fans of the proposals are planning to gather at Plymbridge Car Park at 6.30pm this Wednesday to offer up support for the trail construction and show the local press the other side of the coin. This is the most important moment in the future of these woods and it will be an exhilarating experience if we get a decent turnout. The trails are aimed at cyclists of all ages so if you live in the Plymouth, South Hams and South Devon area then please come along and show your support.
Most riders usually park their cars at Marsh Mills and pedal up the cycle track to Plymbridge. We’ll be meeting there at 6-6.15 and riding the short ride to show our support. Bring your wives, mates, kids, dogs on leads and your mate’s wives and kids!
If you can’t make it then add your support here.
The planning number is 11/01254/ful
You can also get on the bandwagon on Facebook here:
Posted on: September 6, 2011