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OK, slightly clickbait title, yes, but this is the question that Steve Wilson wants answered. He lives in Carlisle, Cumbria, and was all excited to hear that a new pump track was being built in his local park by Carlisle City Council. And then, he got this.
Looking back through the Council’s reports on the track, it’s described in decreasingly exciting ways. It starts out as ‘a BMX Pump Track at Dale End Field, Harraby’ at the Full Council meeting on 8th September 2020, and indeed had been announced in the press as having received funding back in March 2020, with the article illustrated by a full face wearing BMX racer. By January 2021 the BMX has been dropped and it’s just a pump track, described as ‘Pump tracks are designed for users of BMX bikes, scooters and even skateboards to develop their skills and improve their fitness and social skills.’ By 20th July, the transition from BMX to kids’ track is complete: ‘A pump track is similar to a conventional BMX track but physically smaller and suitable for younger users and beginners.’ The planning application in December 2020 describes it as an ‘asphalt surfaced pumptrack suitable for bikes, skateboards, scooters etc.’
Ah yes, the planning application. There’s no doubt it’s a tight site – it’s only 0.05 hectares, which is 500 square metres. However, if you look at the Craigspark pump track in Livingston, it looks to be less than the size of the adjacent ‘kickabout area’, which would be 375sqm. Craigspark is a Velosolutions track – one of a number commissioned by West Lothian Council – and looks to have a fair amount of excitement built in to this small area. So, availability of space may not be the issue here.
The planning application shows a design with four ‘roller summits’, plus two central ‘transition’ areas. The reality on the ground though is rather different – less rollers with summits, more ‘did I just roll over summat?’. Shallow ripples of tarmac, closely spaced, don’t seem to match up to the summits shown in the plans. But maybe there’s a new plan that we don’t know about? We asked the consultants, Kingmoor Consulting, who created the information submitted to Planning about the plans and their involvement:
We were not involved in the final design nor the construction supervision of the track at Dale End Recreational Centre. We understand that the council were leading this themselves and our involvement ceased on the completion of the planning drawings. We offered a number of designs and construction methodologies to the Council at the planning stages as well as costs to provide support during the detailed design and construction phase.Colin Aimers, Kingmoor Consulting
So didn’t Carlisle Council follow the plan shown in the Planning Application? Is there a subsequent revised plan we don’t know about? We asked Carlisle Council about the difference between the plans and the reality on the ground. Have yourself a corporate statement:
“We consulted on the design of the pump track with local residents and other interested parties prior to any works starting. We then put in place a scheme that met those needs within the available budget. This is very much a community-led project and is aimed at younger children and not adults.
“Works are still underway on the site and in the meantime, we ask that any concerns are raised with us direct.”Carlisle City Council spokesperson
‘Aimed at younger children and not adults?’ But, not the under 8s it seems – this sign appears at the site:
It’s hard to imagine than anyone much older than an under five on a balance bike will get much thrill out of this track – and as designs up and down the country have shown, it’s possible to create tracks which offer fun for beginners and more advanced riders. Has this one been designed by someone without the necessary experience to get it right, or has the budget been spread too thinly?
As well as asking about the design and intended use, we’ve also asked about the budget that was available to the project. It appears to have been partially funded by a grant, plus some community fundraising, though we’ve yet to receive any information on the terms of the grant or description of facility that was associated with either the grant or community fundraising. However, we know that the grant was £30,000, so there should be at least that to spend on this project. Does what you see here look like £30k of spending? It seems that £90k got the Friends of Omiston Park this new track, which looks pretty sizeable:
Have you been involved in designing and building a pump track? What did you get for your money – was it better than this?
Now, if you’re wondering why we’re spending any time looking into a small scale local track like this, and what it has to do with the price of fish, or tarmac, then take a moment. Urban cycle tracks, pump tracks and BMX tracks are how many of our own children and future mountain bikers will take to two wheels, so it’s important that councils build these facilities. But bad facilities don’t get used, and as well as not delivering fun and turning people off the sport, they create the impression that there’s no demand. Think about all those miles of red or green paint that passed as cycle lanes for so long – those that don’t see the point in bike infrastructure use their lack of use as evidence that they’re not needed, rather than as evidence they’re being done badly. Or how about all those horrible metal wedges that pass as skateparks, and then people complain when the kids still take to the town hall steps or the supermarket car park for their kicks, instead of using the designated (useless) skate zone?
If a Council spends £30k (or whatever the total fee turns out to be) of grant funding on some poorly thought out wriggly tarmac that ends up collecting water and crumbling into disuse, it makes things harder for all of us. We have to sell the whole idea of why bikes are great, and pump tracks are brilliant, again and again. Build them properly – as we’ve seen happen in Scotland, where Velosolutions tracks (and other companies’) have popped up all over the central belt – and their popularity will speak for itself.
While we wait for fuller answers from Carlisle City Council, here’s a vision of what could have been.
And by all means, if you think you’ve got a worse pump track, Steve Wilson wants to commiserate with you. Head to the comments!
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