coed-y-brenin

Welsh Trail Centre Review: UK MTB’s origin story under threat

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Update

NRW has just sent us this revised version of their original statement:

We know our visitor centres are a much-loved resource among locals and visitors from further afield and the staff who operate them are rightly considered to be the face of NRW.

However, public funding is exceptionally tight across the whole of the UK. As such, we are having to look across all of our remit and critically review what we can and must continue do, what we stop, and what we slow or do differently to fulfil our Corporate Plan ambitions. This is no different to any other public sector body at the moment.

Over the coming months we’ll be drawing up options and recommendations for their future. We are currently talking to other public sector organisations, and others, about how we can deliver the visitor model differently. NRW is attending a public meeting at Ganllwyd Community Council on 1 February and will attend a similar one in Borth, date to be confirmed. The information provided at these forums, as well as correspondence received, will be used in our review and form part of our Board discussion in March.

Here’s the original article:

Coed-y-Brenin was the UK’s first purpose built trail centre, and paved the way for the growth of the mountain biking scene all over the UK. Now it seems the visitor centre there – and others across Wales – are under threat, as budgets are reviewed. However, looking into it creates more questions than answers – what is Natural Resources Wales (NRW) actually considering?

Reports that visitor centres across Wales were under review and threat of closure first surfaced in local press reports in December. Having talked to locals, it appears that the news filtered out via staff, rather than through a formal ‘We’re doing a review’ public announcement or consultation process. We’ve asked NRW to provide us with details of where the announcement was made, or the relevant board meeting where the review was initiated, but as yet we’ve had no answer and the NRW staffer we spoke to was unable to locate the information on their website. We do however have this statement from the press office:

Elsie Grace, Head of Sustainable Commercial Development for NRW, said:

“We know our visitor centres are a much-loved resource among locals and visitors from further afield and the staff who operate them are rightly considered to be the face of NRW.

However, public funding is exceptionally tight across the whole of the UK. As such, we are having to look across all of our remit and critically review what we can and must continue do, what we stop, and what we slow or do differently to fulfil our Corporate Plan ambitions. This is no different to any other public sector body at the moment.

Our visitor centres are part of this review, but no decision has yet been made on how they will operate in the future. Our review focuses on the offer at our visitor centre buildings and their curtilage – car parks, for example.

The National Nature Reserves and Forests around visitor centres are key sites for us. There is no question that we want to conserve and protect these sites so that nature can recover, and we are unequivocal that public access to these sites will be maintained. We will continue to carry out all statutory duties, and will consider the indirect effects of any recommendations.

Over the coming months we’ll be drawing up options and recommendations for their future, based on our evidence collated and also feedback from users such as yourself. The final decisions for 2024/25 will be made by our Board before the end of March.”

So, NRW has confirmed that a review is underway, but hasn’t told us where this was decided or announced. We have also asked repeatedly to be told how people can provide ‘feedback from users’ in order to inform their decision making process, but again, no response so far. Usually we’d expect these to be fairly simple questions to answer for any public body.

Frustrated and worried by the rumours, local residents and politicians in the Coed-y-Brenin have arranged a public meeting, at which they hope an NRW representative will be able to provide more clarity. One of the organisers told us they submitted an FOI request to NRW requesting financial information about the running costs and profits from the centres, but told us they were referred to the corporate accounts and informed no breakdown of profit/loss by visitor centre was available.

The residents hope that the meeting will allow them not only to find out what NRW is planning, but also to set out a vision for what they think the Coed-y-Brenin visitor centre and wider forest attractions should look like for the future. Many of these residents have invested heavily in providing accommodation for tourists attracted to the trails, and are worried that the closure of the centre will result in a drop in visitor numbers. We were told that there is a feeling among the community that NRW is the custodian of the land, but that it belongs to the community and the people of Wales, so NRW should be managing it in line with their interests and needs.

Ahead of any NRW Board decision, the community hopes this meeting will allow them discuss what they want Coed-y-Brenin to look like in future. Let’s hope this isn’t the end of the trail for this origin story. We’ll provide more information on what’s under review and how you can provide your views if or when we get it.

Join in the Forum chat on this topic here.

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Viewing 40 posts - 1 through 40 (of 87 total)
  • Coed-y-Brenin and Bwlch Nant yr Arian at Risk ?
  • UK-FLATLANDER
    Full Member
    2
    Mintyjim
    Full Member

    Oh shit! I’ve not seen that. It’s a shame so many people do their best not to pay for parking.

    i guess, best worst case, would be that the trails continue but no visitor centre, think Brechfa.

    1
    UK-FLATLANDER
    Full Member

    I would imagine this would have a massive effect on the tourist income. I know when ever we head to places like that we spend on accommodation, cafes, pubs as well as supermarkets and other shops. 🤔

    15
    MoreCashThanDash
    Full Member

    It’s a shame so many people do their best not to pay for parking.

    I have never understood why people would think that was big or clever – parking is the least expensive bit of mountain biking, surely?

    14
    dc1988
    Full Member

    I think they just need to rebrand the parking charge as a trail maintenance charge and more people would pay it.

    2
    switchbacktrog
    Free Member

     I think CyB has perhaps been left behind a bit and hasn’t advanced with the capabilities of modern bikes and now needs some more technical features to compete with other venues.

    lister
    Full Member

    I doubt NRW will make any decisions in the near future; they are in the middle of a huge internal and external review of their recreation provision across the whole country. Nothing will change until that research creates a new policy for future investment*

    *I would assume!

    reluctantjumper
    Full Member

    Everywhere that NRW look after us under threat right now, the only trail centre that isn’t is Cwmcarn as it’s run by Caerphilly Council. NRW’s funding has been cut massively over the last decade so they’re having to do more with a lot less.

    I think CyB has perhaps been left behind a bit and hasn’t advanced with the capabilities of modern bikes and now needs some more technical features to compete with other venues.

    Apart from Y Slab on the original Red Bull trail and the skills zone nothing has been changed for seemingly decades. I’m up there every few months (not always with a bike) and have noticed that there are a lot more runners and elderly people out for a coffee than bikers in the carpark than there used to be. Still love riding there but it really doesn’t have any reason to draw in the new riders.

    1
    onewheelgood
    Full Member

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    3
    steelisideal
    Free Member

    MTB in the U.K. is absolutely thriving, go to the BPW car park on a Saturday and that’ll be clear.

    Very few of the traditional ‘trail centres’ have moved with the times. Those that have (Fod) are still absolutely packed.

    6
    walleater
    Full Member

    Maybe Coed-y-Brenin will scale back and just have a small friendly café on the other side of the road. That would be somewhat ironic….

    DickBarton
    Full Member

    The parking charge isn’t just used for trail maintenance though…it gets consumed and used for wages, machinery, signage and anything else that is needed for keeping a trail centre open. Results in very little being put towards the actual trail building/maintenance.
    Unless the parking signage specifies it is used for trailbuilding/maintenance.
    Everywhere is suffering…if people want trail centres and want them maintained and developed then they’ll need to pay – and it will be a lot more than they pay now, so people don’t.

    1
    genecheeseman
    Free Member

    Coed-y is an absolute blast on an e-bike. 

    Perhaps going forward they could look at somehow tapping into this growing market?

    I think the view that the trails there are a bit dated, maybe due to the fireroads being a bit of a slog.

    Obviously the fireroads are a doddle on an e-bike.

    I personally think the trails there are awesome, and looking forward to getting back there. The lamb burger in the cafe is really nice aswell!

    Northwind
    Full Member

    dc1988
    Full Member

    I think they just need to rebrand the parking charge as a trail maintenance charge and more people would pay it.

    That’s just a really risky thing to do. Partly because not all the costs of a trail centre are about trail maintenance, but also an awful lot of them never get close to covering their own running costs, never mind build costs. People tend to imagine they’re just paying a couple of dudes with shovels but all it takes is one big storm to run up massive maintenance costs. Basically you can’t go down the road of “this money ringfenced for this thing” without risking the logical response of “ONLY this money for this thing”.

    Much better to have a sensible approach to visitor attractions like this and actually recognise the much wider value, but councils tend to treat mountain biking as being basically a golden goose- there’s potentially huge financial benefits but a depressingly small amount directly benefits the trail centres/forestry commission/landowner/whoever except when they really go out of their way to do it.

    I don’t believe for a second that CYB is a drain on public resources, it’s just about who pays and who gains.

    1
    nickjb
    Free Member

    NyA has running trails, walking trails, horse riding trails. It also has the red kite feeding which is hugely popular in summer. The mountain biking is certainly a big part but hopefully it has enough general appeal to be worth keeping going. Given the remote location it’s never going to be a big draw.

    3
    crazy-legs
    Full Member

    It’s a shame so many people do their best not to pay for parking.

    Yep – rock up in a £60k camper van and unload £20k worth of e-bikes out the back but £6 to park for the day is too much… 🙄

    Problem is that the parking charges are increased so 10% of the people that do go and do pay think “sod that” and they find ways around it like parking down the road – so the total revenue decreases. So the parking charges are increased again to cover the shortfall and a further 10% of riders do the same.

    Catch 22 – either people go elsewhere or they find creative ways around it which normally involves royally pissing off all the residents within 5 miles by parking in villages and on verges. And then there are complaints about MTBers and it all becomes too much for Forestry or the council plus visitor numbers are down so it’s easy to close it down or re-purpose the venue.

    4
    flec
    Free Member

    Anyone saying the CyB hasn’t moved with the times is missing the point a bit. It’s busy at weekends still when the weather is ok and sure it might be a bit tame on a 170mm enduro e-bike, but lots of people still ride 27.5″ bikes from Halfords or whatever. Those are literally the new riders we all need to bring in, most people don’t start with a £5k full carbon Orbea or whatever.
    If those people can’t bike at CyB then Llandegla and Afan will get busier. Or maybe people will try BPW because there are no beginner friendly centres near them. Anyone on the Welsh border knows how crazy Cannock Chase was mid-pandemic when English people couldn’t cross the border into mid-Wales.
    Ultimately whether you ride that specific trail centre or not, we need to support them, fund them and fight for them because the government isn’t.

    chakaping
    Full Member

    I can’t see anything in the (rather short) article to connect risk of closure to people dodging car park charges.

    And I don’t think that’s very common at CyB anyway.

    Personally, I still really enjoy riding there – the trails are great fun on modern short travel bikes and it’s possibly the best weatherproof trail in the UK. Even if the VC does close, I’d expect the car park to remain operational and the trails open.

    4
    nickc
    Full Member

    Personally, I still really enjoy riding there – the trails are great fun on modern short travel bikes and it’s possibly the best weatherproof trail in the UK.

    Me too, I try to get over there at least once or twice a year, Hotel in Betys, and a couple of days riding locally and it’s always a huge amount of fun and still a challenging day out on a bike. Always have lunch at the café and try to spend some money in the bike shop.

    1
    ayjaydoubleyou
    Full Member

    Personally, I still really enjoy riding there – the trails are great fun on modern short travel bikes and it’s possibly the best weatherproof trail in the UK. Even if the VC does close, I’d expect the car park to remain operational and the trails open.

    yes, I was starting to think I was terrible at bike riding, cyb one of the more technical trail centres and great fun, with good variety and designed to be a challenge at various speeds. Yet lots of people decrying it as boring on a modern bike?

    Even better if you know the shortcut on the dragons back, and hoping the end of the red bull trail gets reopened soon.

    2
    Kramer
    Free Member

    Nant Yr Arian red is also a great little trail too. Really great to buzz round in an hour and a half.

    csb
    Free Member

    re-purpose the venue.

    What as? The woods will still be there, as will the trails in one form or another.

    2
    andrewreay
    Full Member

    Seems to only refer to the Visitor Centres.

    They SHOULD be making a profit out of the cafes, they really should. Most visitors will have a cup of tea at least.

    So if the car parks stay, the trails stay and the cafes stay, is there really any value in keeping the visitor centres open?

    In most cases I’m not sure what the visitor centre adds to the day out. Do many people ask about stuff at CyB other than questions for the bike shop. And at NyA couldn’t they just sell kite food at the cafe? The info boards around the place can provide most users with what they need.

    thegeneralist
    Free Member

    possibly the best weatherproof trail in the UK

    Rofl

    bigrich
    Full Member

    If its to tame for your mad skills,  try it on a gravel bike

    4
    jonfraser100
    Free Member

    I’d be gutted if they shutdown the trail centres.  I’m relatively new to mountain biking and Coed y Brenin and Nant yr Arian are both fantastic facilities,  they have trails that are approachable and fun for new riders and you don’t have to run a high end bike to enjoy them.   I can roll up and know that I can grab a  coffee then enjoy some really good trails pretty much regardless of the weather and also have something to eat at the end of the ride.

    It’s not clear yet what the implications of the finding changes will be,  it would make them a lot less attractive as a destination if there was no cafe as there’s no alternatives nearby.   I spend money on other things in the area as well when I go, I’m sure it would be a loss to the economies of the areas if they’re shut.  Does anyone know if there’s a campaign to keep them open?

    I also found this on the BBC website

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/articles/cv2zg125rljo?fbclid=IwAR3ScNitQXpWfpAQFlUkz9DNoGR7niCPzR9_YPXAEZTjGM98MpurRz_ttcA

    2
    bikesandboots
    Full Member

    Yes, CyB is the best I’ve seen for easing in for beginners and then progressing. Lots of example trails for each of the grades in the little practice areas. Then a few increments all the way up, not just one trail of each grade.

    DaveyBoyWonder
    Free Member

    Been riding CyB since the beginning and still love it. Certainly has a different feel to some other trail centres but the facilities for various levels of rider are great (took my kids on balance bikes around parts of the Minotaur when they were little). Also think some sections of trail there are up there with some of the most fun bits of trail centre in the UK – Addams Family all the way down to the river for example is superb and given its age, there’s a lot a sections which are out of the way which are starting to feel almost natural (can’t remember the names but the section down to where the little cafe used to be for example).

    Must plan a trip over sometime….

    2
    nwgiles
    Full Member

    We go CYB at least once a month, we have a car park pass.

    The one thing for me is the cafe, they serve food till half 4, the amount of times we as a family have turned up at 3:45 and they have cleaned and shut down.

    If they were open we would all have bought food, drinks and cakes.

    chrismac
    Full Member

    I think they just need to rebrand the parking charge as a trail maintenance charge and more people would pay it.

    They can’t because it’s not true, it just general revenue and in no way relates to the costs of even maintaining the current trails let alone build new stuff.

    As others have said the game has moved on and they haven’t which is a shame as it’s a great place. In practical terms though for the mtb riders it only has 1 trail to ride which is the beast. The black bull had the slabs added and then left that section stranded in a sea of nothing to entice anyone to go round more than once in their life. You still loose most of your height on a fire road for goodness sake. Compare that to dyfi just round the corner in practical terms.

    1
    chakaping
    Full Member

    Yes the west side of CyB is a bit weird with that gnarly bit plonked in the middle of a pretty dull loop.

    And there is some off-piste at CyB as well, but it’s a fair step up from the trail centre stuff.

    2
    finephilly
    Free Member

    This is a golden opportunity to put CyB back on the MTB map. All it needs is some hard work and commitment.

    crazy-legs
    Full Member

    All it needs is some hard work and commitment.

    Which also requires a shed load of money.
    And there isn’t any.

    FWIW, I really didn’t rate CyB much on my last visit. Admittedly it must be 20 years ago that I last visited (the original CyB) and I got to new CyB with my new MTB and set off and…was rather underwhelmed. And some of the trails were just rubble and so “unmaintained” as to be virtually unrideable, there was no flow at all. Nice autumn colours though and the cafe was decent.

    twowheels
    Free Member

    This is sad.  Hopefully it is just one of those “give us funding or we’ll just have to do something bad” things.

    They can cut costs without closing it. E.g. I had an EV on my last trip and for sure took more electricity from the free charger at CyB than the parking cost.  Hopefully the review simply comes up with a few measures like that.

    “final decisions for 2024/25 will be made by our board before the end of March.” – I have a long weekend trip in 2 weeks time…. hope it won’t be the last.

    footflaps
    Full Member

    All it needs is some hard work and commitment

    and zero money?
    Given they have a funding shortfall, spending more money on a loss making site would be a big ask…

    Maybe Coed-y-Brenin will scale back and just have a small friendly café on the other side of the road. That would be somewhat ironic….

    It had a much nicer ambience than the new thing which just feels to me like a motor way service station. The food was way better in the old one as well.

    I think CyB has perhaps been left behind a bit and hasn’t advanced with the capabilities of modern bikes and now needs some more technical features to compete with other venues.

    Although it’s fine if you ride a more normal bike eg a HT. I realise I’m in a minority, but I never understood the endless arms race with FS bikes where even an entry level bike is now far more capable than a top tier 2000 DH race bike. You just run out of places to ride, or ride everything massively over biked. Most of the original welsh trail centers are ideal for a SS HT, smooth, flowy and with pretty gentle gradient climbs. Although NyA has a slightly painful SS climb on the longer loop, when you come back into the trail center.

    1
    finephilly
    Free Member

    It’s a similar situation to the mid-90’s when Daf D started building. No money, FC didn’t care, visitor centres closing. It doesn’t require a load of money spunked on 50ft jumps so people can pay £50, blast off and be gone – lots of places already do that.

    It needs time and dedication, spent on the right things. e.g. woodland craft, habitat management, sustainable trail building. None of these things are WOW RIGHT NOW! They take time and effort to create.

    thisisnotaspoon
    Free Member

    MTB in the U.K. is absolutely thriving, go to the BPW car park on a Saturday and that’ll be clear.

    BPW is a very different market though. And is/was the only professionally run downhill venue in the UK? I mean that it ran everything from a car park and shop, to the uplift, to the trail building. Not a layby, shuttling up the road, and riding volunteer built trails or uplifts in a tractor trailer etc.

    Very few of the traditional ‘trail centres’ have moved with the times. Those that have (Fod) are still absolutely packed.

    True, but also not true. I think a lot of centers have their own feel to them, and it depends on their own topography. I’m off to Afan at the weekend, I’m well aware that the main loop is a big fire road slog round the top, but it’s January and we’re doing something stupid, on stupid singlespeeds and the weather will probably make it more stupid. Afan does seem to have had a succession of bad luck cycles though between harvesting and disease.

    More importantly there’s the fact that people actually have to get to these places. Swinley is objectively a bit ….. Swinley. But is rammed because it’s local to millions of people. It was built to fulfill the needs of people for places to ride. Same with the Tweed Valley, it’s local-ish to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

    CyB and it’s ilk were built as tourist destinations. Whether it’s environmental considerations, the price of fuel, ztime constraints, or whatever, people in Birmingham are more likely to drive 30min to Cannock than to remote bits of Wales.

    Swings and roundabouts, we either get grants to pay for tourist attractions and attract people. But that only lasts as long as the money does. Or we find funding to build things closer to home. It’s no accident that BPW (and FoD) is about as close to the Severn Bridge and M4 corridor as is practicable.

    thegeneralist
    Free Member

    Most of the original welsh trail centers are ideal for a SS HT, smooth, flowy

    Hmm. Smooth and flowy are definitely not words I would use to describe much of the red bull side of the road.

    1
    swanny853
    Full Member

    I can’t agree with the comments about the trails at CyB- they’re a bit more work but that’s why they’re great! They take more effort than some but that offers a bit of challenge and you really, really know when you’re having a good day because even the awkward ones flow. If everything got smoothed out it would take a lot away from something that feels probably as close to a ‘not a trail centre trail centre’ as I’ve ridden.

    Klunk
    Free Member

    IME about 1 in 10 cars @ Nanty are there for the mtb trails, probably a lot higher @ Cyb but it’s still not just an issue for riders.

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