The two former mountain bike champions behind The Hub at Glentress in Scotland have been told they'll be kicked off the site when their lease expires in March 2012.
Emma Guy and Tracey Brunger have run the cafe, bike hire and coaching business for 10 years. They've helped make Glentress, near Peebles in the Tweed Valley, one of the world's most successful trail centres.
But a new £9 million visitor centre is due to open next year and while the pair had hoped to move into it, they've now learned that they haven't made it through to the final stages of the tendering process. They say up to 30 jobs at The Hub – 10 full-time and 20 part-time – could be lost.
Emma told BikeRadar: "There had been talk of us moving into the new centre for the remainder of our lease and we actually received some suggested terms for a new lease. But then we were informed by email that they [the Forestry Commission] were going to put it out to tender.
"We were invited to tender and sent them a pack. Then we received an email saying we'd been unsuccessful. It was a bit of a shock. Having been here for 10 years, we expected to get further than that.
"We've been told that once a tender has been awarded we'll be able to have a meeting with them and they'll be able to tell us why we failed. I'm not sure if we can appeal. We're looking at that at the moment and digesting what's happened and deciding what's the best way forward."
Emma and Tracey's bid to run the new centre was rejected by an independent panel appointed by the Forestry Commission. It's understood that bosses want to widen the 7stanes centre's appeal, with an emphasis on attracting families, walkers and beginner cyclists in addition to more hardcore mountain bikers.
"To be honest, we've been concerned about what the big plan for Glentress is," said Emma. "We've asked that question, and asked what developments are planned for the next 10 years, which is how long the new lease is for, and they've told us there will be no new trails built at Glentress. That's despite them saying they hope to up visitor numbers to half a million [from 300,000 a year]. We've got reservations about how they'll actually do that.
"We've already got to the stage where people who used to come every single week are now coming every four weeks because there's nothing new for them to do. In the past there was always something new happening; that kept the interest high and Glentress at the forefront. It's fantastic that the Forestry Commission have invested £9m in this area, but £9m on a building? All the trails were built for less than half a million."
Emma said she was in favour of broadening Glentress's appeal, but not if it meant alienating the core market of mountain bikers. She said she and Tracey had years of experience when it comes to mountain biking and mountain bikers and they'd pushed for greater involvement.
"I fear that it's people sitting behind desks who wouldn't know a pedal from a brake lever that are making the decisions," she said. "It's not good news for mountain bikers. We want to see mountain biking progress and that's what's making us feel angry and sad at the moment."
Emma puts part of The Hub's success down to the fact that both she and Tracey (pictured) are mountain bikers
The Hub's owners say they've been "overwhelmed" by the amount of support they've received via email and Facebook. Emma said most of the staff would hopefully be able to get jobs at the new centre, but she feared that if a chain business won the tender it would have a big impact on the local economy; at present the staff all live in the area.
As for the future, Emma said: "We've got another year here and next year's our 10th anniversary so we intend to go out with a bang! We've got some ideas but nothing concrete at the moment. We're just digesting what's happened. We'll need to see what options there are."
Supporters were quick to post outraged comments on The Hub's Facebook page. Susan Baldwin said: "This is terrible news and totally unfair. You've done wonders for mountain biking at Glentress and the knock-on to the rest of the south of Scotland. Without your fab cafe and friendly advice back in the early days, I'd never have done any mountain biking. I fell in love with it at Glentress thanks to The Hub and the wonderful atmosphere there. I hope there's something that can be done."
Richard Biggs said: "Gutted, outraged but not surprised as corporate mentality often rides roughshod over the common good. Tracey and Emma (plus all the other staff) are absolute legends in the mountain biking world and I doubt that this will go uncontested – hopefully due process will actually work for the little man this time!"
"The Forestry Commission are ruining a brilliant place," said Maureen Booth. "Who do we lobby to get this decision overturned?" While Alastair Forbes said the FC were "ripping the heart and soul out of Glentress" and Kenny Wallace said: "I despair at the thought of Glentress becoming corporate. By bikers for bikers. Rough and rugged escapism."
The new Glentress Peel 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. Parking will be provided for 140 cars.
Forestry Commission: tendering process was fair
A spokesman for Forestry Commission Scotland told BikeRadar: "The Glentress Peel visitor centre was needed to cater for the huge demand being placed on Glentress Forest. With well over 300,000 visitors each year you need to have the right facilities in place to keep the destination as the number one attraction in the Borders.
"The new cafe, bike shop and hire are great new business opportunities that are on a far bigger and different scale than before so it's standard public practice to tender openly and fairly to run these new services. The Hub have known for years that they'll need to tender to run the businesses. We understand their disappointment. However, we've carried out the whole process to the letter. We can't allow any favouritism or preferential treatment when carrying out such a tender.
"The Hub still have a lease for the cafe which runs out in 2012 so they have a very long period to be able to make future plans for their staff and business. We also expect the new Peel centre to provide a significant number of jobs, along with a big boost to the local economy. We reckon the Peel development will be a welcome asset for the area. Of course, we'll still be managing the trails as per usual and refreshing and maintaining sections as they need repairs. So, contrary to some comments, we're still putting resources into the trails in the forest."
The Hub was opened on 31 March 2002 by Tracey, a former cross-country pro, and Emma, an elite downhiller and four-cross racer. To raise the money for the venture, the pair had to sell almost everything they owned – including their bikes – and Emma had to put in shifts at her dad's loft conversion business. Glentress has since gone on to become the biggest tourist attraction in the Scottish Borders.
Emma and Tracey aren't the only trail centre pioneers to suffer a similar fate. In 2003, Daffyd and Sian Roberts were served notice to quit the cafe and visitor centre at Coed y Brenin in north Wales that they'd built up over 10 years because landlords Forest Enterprise wanted to run it themselves. And this time last year, Ian Luff of The Dropoff lost the tender to run the popular cafe at Glyncorrwg mountain bike centre in south Wales – although he later won a temporary reprieve.