Innerleithen Uplift Facing Uphill Struggle

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Between the much-loved Tweedlove Festival, downhill and enduro events, trail centres, extensive road riding, and an impressive roster of fast locals, the Tweed Valley holds a special place in British riders’ hearts.  Despite its renown, however, the area’s trail riding has recently slipped from the rankings of the UK’s top trail centres.

Tweedlove Esses

Constituted in 2008 following a large community consultation, AimUp Ltd aims to move Tweed back to the top of the tables.  The result of eight years’ worth of volunteer time and effort, AimUp has presented a vision to the local council and MSPs that they feel would “sustain and develop the community and economy of Innerleithen, Walkerburn and Traquair by growing off-road cycling and tourism by developing a cost effective programme to build a mechanical uplift, bike park and visitor attraction at Innerleithen for the benefit of the local community and Scotland.”

Innerleithen Uplift

What AimUp call the “game changer” is a proposed low-environmental-impact mechanical uplift (Weili), alongside a family-oriented alpine coaster run attraction, providing all-ability, all-age access to a beautiful part of the Scottish Borders. Not just a mountain bike project, AimUp feel that the proposed uplift would be “about allowing people that may not otherwise be physically capable to also access the multitude of trails or walking paths within the Traquair Forest.”  Revenue from the proposed attractions would be returned to the centre for use in developing new and maintaining existing runs.
Innerleithen Uplift

Earlier this week at Innerleithern Memorial Hall, AimUp chairman Gordon Donald presented summary of the group’s vision to fifty members of the public- as well laying out the obstacles they feel have been placed in front of them by those charged to act in the best interest of the communities they represent.  The Tweed Valley Mountain Biking Stakeholder Group have concluded that “the uncertainty of the visitor numbers makes [AimUp’s proposal] high risk for investment.”  While AimUp is represented in the group (as one of seven voices), it is AimUp’s position that the Stakeholder Group have based their decisions not to proceed on the proposed plan without proper market research and on an unreleased consultant’s report commissioned by the Group.  The project’s prospects are further weakened by EU legislation reducing tax relief for social investments, which have caused a previously-interested private investor to withdraw interest.

Innerleithen Uplift


Local businessman Steve Treacy was “appalled at the lack of any political or council representation at the meeting and the apparent apathy of the Stakeholder Group and local political arena to progress anything tangible”. Local bike shop owners Gordon and Anna Hardie, whose son was part of the Scottish Downhill Academy, were “stunned that figures and statistics presented numerous times [by AimUp] have seemingly been ignored by elected members of the government, councilors and the publicly-funded Stakeholder Group”. Although invited, no representatives from any of the public bodies attended or were available for comment.

Innerleithen Uplift

The consensus among Tweed Valley cyclists and the businesses they support is that action is needed to reinvigorate riding in the Valley and to attract riders whose attention may have drifted elsewhere in the region or towards Wales.  A local guest house owner focused on the economic benefit it would bring; “it is a shame that the public agencies haven’t been as supportive as they might be, and seem to lack the vision and determination to make this happen. Clearly it would help to fill the spare capacity in our business, boost the numbers we employ, and provide year round business.”

Overall, the members of AimUp and their supporters come across as exhausted and frustrated by lack of support from public officials.  Riders and others in the community who would like to see more support for the development plan should visit the AimUp Facebook Page for instruction on how best to express support.

Comments (13)

    Self-fulfilling prophecy, innit. The more that folk whinge about “lack of investment” in the areas, they more they put visitors off coming.

    I love the aspiration of aimup but IMO the uplift is now a millstone round their necks. They point to Bikepark Wales as competition, but BPW proves perfectly why we need a permanent uplift- buses done right are more than up to the job.

    The scheme seems so tied to the chairlift but if we bin that, and go ahead with the other parts of the scheme, plus a better uplift road that actually goes to the top- you have most of the benefits for a fraction of the cost.

    I see this is filed under ‘news’ . Shouldn’t this be ‘comment’. I take it this has been written by someone connected to AimUp, and is hardly an attempt to give an impartial view of the situation.

    +1 northwind, their heart is in the right place but the focus is off. A larger network of well maintained, waymarked trails, along with supporting infrastructure is what will draw people from further afield,

    Oh, aside- the top photo is innerleithen but it’s a golfie trail. Aimup wouldn’t serve that trail, unless we go full Les Arcs and get a cablecar to link over the valley.

    Fifteen years ago this might have gone ahead, but now you’re basically asking for a massive amount of public money from organisations that simply don’t even have enough money to carry out their core services or pay their own staff, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.

    There are many successful uplift and trail ventures around the UK, do they all require the same level of public funding as this one? If not can those models not be applied here?

    I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again (and again); Innerleithen needs a swoopy 10k blue route like glentress. This would create a destination for families that want a weekend’s worth of riding. This would benefit the local tourist trade more than any number of young rad dudes happy to kip in the back of their lowered vw transporter. And you could build a 10k swoopy blue for about £500k, much cheaper than a train.

    +1 Northwind + awwiles

    Existing uplift isn’t full every weekend, can’t see an equivalent suddenly being rammed, particularly using the proposed method, families or not.
    Personally think the Tweed Valley Trails Assoc (TVTA) has the right idea, we’re extremely lucky with plenty off piste riding, but the existing official network could do with more trails, particularly Innerleithen which only has a fairly physical red option or the DH marked trails.

    I think the idea of a chairlift is to attract not only cyclists, but a wider audience who might not normally venture up hills, with the alpine coaster run etc.
    That sort of audience are less likely to want to get into a sweaty minibus with a load of cyclists.

    Roller coaster run might attract some people, but it’s really not the nicest of forests to walk around in, it’s not like Glentress or somewhere. Apart from the southern upland way I can’t see there being much demand for walking in it, apart from taking the dog for a jobby.

    As part of the AIMUp team, it’s interesting to see the variety of thoughts & comments in reaction to the article & our public meeting.

    Posters who maintain the trails in the Tweed Valley are world class are absolutely right. But as a destination we’re no longer world leading. Many, many new trails have been built, almost exclusively for the ‘expert/advanced’ rider. But it’s 5 years since a blue grade trail was built in the valley. Is that any way to attract beginners into the sport, or families to holiday in the area?

    With the continued decline to visitor numbers we are needing to invest in the attraction, including trails throughout the valley, to return it to a world destination and make a positive impact to our community and economy.
    The challenge is funds for investment in facilities and trails. There is nothing from public agencies. Therefore the community is looking at a game changer attraction at scale that generates a surplus, so the surplus is source of investment in to new trails and trail maintenance. The AIMUp proposal is currently the only sustainable model for ongoing trail development and maintenance and marketing of the Tweed Valley as a destination.

    A success factor will be more trails accessible for all abilities and all disciplines and at scale, where mtb and other forest users in greater numbers interact safely.

    As a trail centre, Innerleithen would certainly benefit from a swoopy blue as suggested. £500k might be an accurate cost estimate, but where will that come from? And when we need another blue new trail next year to keep progressing the attraction, where does the next £500k come from?

    BPW have got one significant advantage over Innerleithen, their road based uplift works. The current single track route is long & slow, a new more direct double track tarmac road would for sure speed up the uplift & allow multiple vans/buses to run. Cost of such a road, somewhere between £500k-£1m at a very rough estimate. Cost of building a permanent uplift (without cafe/changing/parking/toboggan) approx £1.5m. Would you spend £1m on a road or £1.5m on a permanent uplift that anyone (not just bikers) can jump straight on?

    We don’t claim to have all the answers or the perfect solution (indeed is it even the right hill?), but so far AIMUp is the only group that has come up with realistic ideas to return the Tweed Valley to the top of the world rankings for mountain biking destinations.

    …. Apart from the fact that there is no money to build it.

    imnotverygood, currently the City Region Deal for Edinburgh, Fife, the Lothians & the Borders, are inviting applications for innovative infrastructure projects to accelerate growth in the area. There is £2bn in the pot. There is money. It requires political will to pursue such an application, together with an ambitious innovative project that aims to help boost a flagging local economoy – now where can we lay our hands on one of those?

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