The Forestry Commission have responded to criticism over the tendering process for the new visitor centre at Glentress in Scotland by posting an open letter on their website.
News that the team behind the established Hub In The Forest would be kicked off site in March 2012 caused an uproar when it emerged last month. Former mountain bike champions Emma Guy and Tracey Brunger have become synonymous with the 7stanes trail centre since they set up their bike shop, cafe and coaching business in 2002.
In his letter, Forestry Commission Scotland chief executive Simon Hodge argues that many organisations have contributed to the success of the Tweed Valley venue, including the FC itself, voluntary groups such as the Glentress Trailfairies and Tweed Valley Osprey Project, and those who have provided funding. However, he does concede that The Hub has "been an important part of the Glentress story over the last nine years".
On the matter of the tendering process for the £9 million new Glentress Peel development, Mr Hodge says there has been a "fair and objective evaluation process without favouritism, in this case involving independent verification". "This is to ensure that the services will be of the quality and scale needed," he says. "It's also to secure a good financial contribution to the £250,000 annual cost of maintaining the trails at Glentress and the wider 7stanes network, and so reduce the cost that falls to the taxpayer."
At present, trail maintenance is funded by Glentress's £3 daily parking charge. Emma says that last year only £100,000 was raised, partly because the charge isn't enforced. FCS estimate that visitor numbers will rise from 300,000 to 500,000 following the opening of the new centre. If this is the case, and if a parking attendant is employed, the £250,000 should easily be met by parking revenue alone.
Mr Hodge goes on to say that he understands people's disappointment that the Hub team weren't successful in their bid to run the new centre, but that it would be "unacceptable" for FCS to reject other, stronger bids. Despite rumours that FCS wants to attract more walkers and families to Glentress, Mr Hodge insists that the Forestry Commission "has been and remains one of the most progressive providers of mountain biking" in Scotland.
"It's our desire to maximise the value of mountain biking to Scotland, across the 7stanes and at Glentress, and to do this in a way that's sustainable in times of reducing government funding," he says. You can read Mr Hodge's letter here.
The preferred bidder for the Glentress Peel development is expected to be announced next Wednesday (12 January 2011). Internet rumours suggest a Scottish bike shop chain is the frontrunner.
The new centre will be made up of four buildings – containing a visitor centre, cafe, bike shop/hire centre and offices/meeting rooms – spread across a 12-acre hillside site on the opposite side of the main access road from The Hub.
As for The Hub's future, Emma and Tracy say on their Facebook page that they're "working on a masterplan just now" which will soon be revealed.