Questions and answers about the proposed Mountain Bike park
This page contains some of the facts that we’ve gathered in our discussions with BANES and with Pedal Progression Ltd. We’ll add to this as we find out more, so please check back from time to time for the latest information. Significant new information will be added in italics, so that you find it easily. We are trying to create a resource of factual information here, reporting what we know as clearly as possible.
This website also includes a Blog page which you can find from the main menu bar at the top of this page. This is a space for residents to express their opinions on what is happening in and around Entry Hill, through short written articles. Here you will find some personal opinions about the Mountain Bike Park proposals, send to us by local residents. They are not necessarily the views of the Entry Hill Community Association.
What do we know about the proposals for the Entry Hill site?
The plan is to develop and operate an urban Mountain Bike park on the golf course site. The concept outline plan that has been published is an indication of what is proposed. Until Council-led survey work is completed on the site, it will not be possible to draw up an accurate plan to establish what Bath Bike Park is going to look like. The survey work is particularly important because the site was originally a series of landfill dumps and is contaminated in places. So, the facilities must be carefully planned around this.
(Update: In June 2021 we were told by officers from BANES that the desk-based work is complete and that survey work will start on the site itself, with test holes being dug later this month.)
The concept plan currently shows eight downhill bike tracks, of varying levels of difficulty, graded from green to black. There will also be a pump track, a jump track, learn-to-ride and upskilling area. These will be part of a the ‘pay-to-ride’ bike park. There will be individual and family admission and the cost will be broadly the same as bike parks elsewhere (around £24 for a family admission). The operator will offer bikes for hire to people who do not have their own. They will also provide training and coaching services to enable riders to develop their skills.
The construction of the bike track and associated bike hire and repair facilities, with the necessary fencing, new cafe etc will be a substantial building project. We don't yet know how much excavation will be necessary or possible on this contaminated site; or how much material might need to be bought onto the site to build up the various jumps etc which will form part of the mountain bike trails.
The concept plan also shows a natural-style play park, picnic area, pond, community growing space and allotments. The proposals include a new, larger café and space for local residents to walk, ride bikes and enjoy the views over Bath. There will be secure fencing to separate the pay-to-ride trails from the remainder of the site.
BANES assure us that the cafe, play area and allotments will be part of the development. The operators have described their aspiration to further develop and enhance commmunity facilities over time by enlisting the support of volunteers, crowd funding in the community and from the profits generated by the ‘pay-to-ride’ bike trails.
Who is behind the project?
The operator of the site will be a small Bristol-based business called Pedal Progression Ltd. They describe themselves as a skills coaching and mountain bike hire company based at the Ashton Court Estate in Bristol. They have led the work to maintain the existing free-to-ride bike trails at Ashton Court, working with volunteers to restore and rebuild them, now that Bristol City Council funding has run out. This is the page they have set up on their website for Bath Bike Park and you can watch a video where the founders of Pedal Progression explain what they hope to achieve in Bath www.pedalprogression.com/bbp-news/. There are several additional sections describing their aspirations for the Bath Bike Park. You can also find Pedal Progression on Facebook.
They acknowledge that they are currently a small business and have described their plans to bring in other experts to help them in the areas where they don’t currently have much experience. They already have a close working relationship with Architrail Velosolutions Ltd. who will provide the technical expertise in the design, development and maintenance of Mountain Bike trails. You can find out more about them here https://www.architrailvelosolutions.com/ and they are also on Facebook.
BANES will manage the project to develop the bike park, working in collaboration with Pedal Progression and Architrail Velosolutions. They will subsequently monitor the contract with Pedal Progression Ltd to operate Bath Bike Park. BANES will continue to own the site and be ultimately responsible for it.
How is it being funded?
The initial development of the site is being undertaken and largely funded by BANES. The Council has decided to invest around £440,000 of capital funding in the project, from funds they have available to support recreation in their area. There will be an additional £60,000 for the development of allotments. The operators will be required to pay BANES interest on this money, as well as making a contribution to the cost of development. BANES will also be making grant applications to organisations like British Cycling, Sport England etc.
The intention is that the project will be self-financing, generating enough income from the pay-to-ride bike trails, bike hire and training and from the café to maintain the site and the free facilities. The details of the contract are still under negotiation and at this stage we don’t know whether BANES expect to have to provide revenue support to help run the project until it gets to the stage where it is making enough money to be independent, or what will happen if it can’t do this.
Until the survey work is complete and final plans are drawn up, it is not possible to know what it is likely to cost to build the bike park. Other issues might emerge during the planning process, including steps to mitigate the impact on nearby homes and these may further increase the costs.
What is the timescale?
It is difficult to determine a clear timescale at the moment. Much depends on the outcome of the survey work, how much work is necessary to construct the trails and the planning permission process. However, at the moment we have been told that the intention is to begin preliminary discussions with the BANES planning department in late May/early June, with a full planning application being submitted in August/September. However, we understand there are already delays, due to the extent of the survey work necessary on the site.
The BANES Local Planning Authority will consider all aspects of the proposal, including the transport plan, ecological impact, impact on the neighbouring houses and so on. The planning application will be accompanied by a series of reports in these areas and it is likely to take some months to work through all of this.
Update: The Equalities Impact Assessment has however been completed and is available here.
Physical development of the site would follow, with a view to opening the bike trails in 2022. Pedal Progression hope to be able to open the café sooner if this is possible. The construction of proper Mountain Bike trails, available to ride all year, with adequate drainage and with necessary variety of challenges that riders expect, requires significant construction work.
BANES tell us that they will move quickly to set up a process for consultation with residents and other interested parties throughout April and May. They recognise that they need a variety of mechanisms for different groups with varying interests and concerns. So, local cycling enthusiasts would need to be treated be very differently to those residents whose homes directly border the site.
Pedal Progression are thinking about opening up the old café as a drop-in centre where people can come to find out more and begin to engage with the project over a cup of coffee.
Update: Pedal Progression had hoped to do this in Spring 2021, but this now seems unlikely.
Will this create more traffic problems and extra parking around the site including on Entry Hill?
This is a major concern, for everyone involved for a number of reasons and we think that this part of the proposal needs considerable additional thought. Travel to a bike park is more complex because families (especially those with younger children) will want to bring their own cycles; and because mountain biking can make people and their bikes very muddy in wet weather – so not very public transport friendly. Also, mountain bikes are not always equipped for road cycling.
Pedal Progression are confident that a high proportion of their users will cycle to the new site on Entry Hill. (We are sceptical about this, given the climb up the hills necessary to reach the park – certainly for families - and have told them so.) They also expect that BANES will use the Low Traffic Neighbourhood measures and new Residents Parking Zones to prevent parking adjacent to the site, which will force people to use alternative means to reach the site. We know that there is no certainty as to when, or even if, these measures will be put in place.
The current access to the site, on the bend of Entry Hill has always been problematic and potential dangerous. There will be no additional parking at the site. Existing parking will likely be reserved for the disabled and for families. BANES must consider the options for the site - this is a planning requuirement - they are currently in the process of engaging a transport consultant to look at all of the options and help to develop a travel plan for the site. Possible ‘park and cycle’ arrangements from Odd Down Park and Ride site have been suggested, but this leaves the issue of a lack of a safe cycling route for families from the Park and Ride site to Entry Hill. The option of using the parking available at Odd Down Sports Ground has also been mentioned. BANES have already explained that vehicle access from Wellsway cannot be supported on either highways or financial grounds, but there will be cycle and pedestrian access from Wellsway.
During its first year, the Bath Bike Park expects to attract 25,000 visitors, with an average of 40 per day during the week and 140 per day at weekends. Numbers are expected to peak at 60 per day on weekdays and 200 per day at weekends. The operators expect to increase this number each year to reach around 50,000 visitors in time.
For comparison, in recent years, attendance at the golf course had dropped to around 10,000 players per year - most of whom arrived by car. Even allowing for a proportion of people to cycle to the park, and for family groups arrive in one vehicle, there will clearly be a number of additional visitors arriving by car and this will grow over time.
Update: We now know that operators expect that around 20% of the visitors to arrive on foot or by bike, so that 20,000 will arrive by car initially, with this number doubling in time. We are not currently aware of the plan for how this additional traffic will be managed, or where the extra cars will park.
Are there similar facilities in other cities?
This style of commercial bike-based facility appears to be an innovative approach and we are not aware of anything similar yet happening elsewhere. The hybrid approach of combining bike tracks with free facilities, open to a wider community, appears to be a relative novel proposal and as such, is untested, from a commercial point of view. Managing the (sometimes) conflicting needs of bikers and other users is a common issue that local authorities and other bodies have experienced in different settings. This site will bring these together in a close association however and there are likely to be new and different challenges. The cost of maintaining the community spaces will have to be found from the income the pay-to-ride bike tracks generate.
There are some free-to-ride mountain bike trails in more urban areas (at Ashton Court in Bristol and Leeds Urban Bike Park . The former has been successful to some extent in using volunteer support to maintain the trails but both sites are struggling to fund this. Other ites can be found more locally at Tidworth; and at Warminster where the private, pay-to-ride WindHill mountain bike site offers a more ‘extreme’ experience. These are limited, in that they provide an offer just for mountain biking without the associated community facilities which are planned for Entry Hill.
Some of the pros and cons of a Bike Park
Most mountain bike trails are (unsurprisingly!) in undeveloped mountainous or hilly areas. Mountain Biking is described as an adrenaline sport, where people get quite noisy and excited as they encounter various physical challenges. The trails will have to be fenced off to prevent unauthorised access and to protect both the trail bikes and other users of the site. There is obviously potential for significant noise and visual intrusion for residents living close to the site - over 50 homes share a direct border. Careful design of the Bike Park, with new planting and screening can mitigate the impact, together with good ongoing management of the operation.
Pedal Progression describe their plans for Entry Hill as a ‘progression park’ in which people can grow the skills and confidence to enable them to start to tackle more ambitious tracks out in the mountains. It provides an entry point to the relatively new, growing sport of mountain biking. There is some evidence that building these skills and confidence also make riders safer and more confident road cyclists and encourage them to use bikes more for commuting etc. It is also intended as a place where people can come just to have fun outdoors, even if they never plan to venture out on to the mountains with their bikes.
Mountain biking is not currently a diverse sport. The nature of the sport appeals mainly to younger and middle-aged people, mostly men. Minority ethnic groups are under represented. The cost of bikes and other equipment can be too high for many people. Pedal Progression Ltd are well aware of this and are keen to improve the diversity of the sport. They offer bikes for hire, as well as individual and group coaching. Their website describes their plans to work with community groups to bring a wider cross section of riders into Bath Bike Park and BANES will expect to see real progress on this as part of the contractural conditions to support delivery of their aim to see 'More People, More Active, More Often'.
Update: In early June, Pedal Progression put out a social media post asking for women and members of the BAME community who were confident riders to come along to their Bristol bike trails for a photoshoot and offering gift vouchers in return for this. They explained that their PR material lacked images of these groups enjoying mountain biking.
Were other sites considered as the location for a Bath Bike Park?
We specifically asked the BANES Council officers involved whether they had considered other sites for a Bath Bike Park, and particularly whether it might have been more suitable to develop a Bike Park on the Approach site. They said that they had not considered other sites and that in the tender exercise, the Approach had been listed as only available for golf related activity. (The Council report in July 2020, at the time where the formal decision was made to go out to tender for an operator for both sites explained that other uses could be considered for Entry Hill as golf would remain in some form at Approach.)
Our main concerns
When it became clear that operation of the Entry HIll site was under discussion, we asked Entry Hill residents what they wanted, those who responded to us showed strong support for the site to remain as a golf course, albeit with new management and improved facilities. The Entry Hill Community Association (EHCA) Committee supported this and got involved in the selection process, through our local Councillor, to try to ensure that the community at large would benefit, whatever happened. We insisted that any new plans should include an expanded café/community hub and free public access to enable residents to continue to use the space for exercise and recreation.
However, we recognise that the pattern of leisure activity is naturally changing and evolving, as new sports emerge, and others decline. It can be good to consider novel solutions to meeting changing needs for leisure facilities. Such innovation does carry a high degree of risk and this is the case with this project. We believe there are significant risks with this project, both practical, in how a Mountain Bike park can work in an enclosed urban site; and financial, especially whether the park will be sustainable and whether the pay-to-ride activity can generate enough money to deliver the elements that are relevant to a wider community – the café/community hub, family cycling and activity facilities and safe and enjoyable spaces for walking and recreation.
Alongside our efforts to provide you with factual advice, we do have a range of questions and concerns about the proposals and we are pressing hard to get these answered. As we find out more, we will add further information to this page. We have now developed a more detailed set of principles which we think will help to make sure that these concerns are adressed. You can find it here.
We are particularly concerned about:
The impact on those homes immediately bordering the site, which is expecting up to 200 users per day at the weekend, all enjoying the adrenaline rush that comes with Mountain Biking - noise is likely to be a particular issue, as is safety and security on the site. Preventing unauthorised, out-of-hours use will also be a challenge.
This is an untested project, with no existing examples of how such a facility works from a commercial perspective, or from a practical viewpoint. We don't know whether the project can generate enough income to develop and maintain the community facilities – we know that past operations on the site have not succeeded in doing this. Also Pedal Progression Ltd are a small business and this is a very ambitious project for them.
Whether Bath is large enough to generate enough regular users to sustain the park, or whether it will need to rely on visitors arriving from outside to reach the necessary income level. BANES tell us that 90,000 people live within 5 miles of the Bike Park - but we are not sure how many people will use the facility - or how often.
Whether the facility will be able to attract the diversity of users to deliver to the BANES objective of getting 'more people more active more often'. We have struggled to find images of women and girls, older people or those from the BAME communities enjoying mountain biking. We are also concerned about how it can be made genuinely affordable and accessible to everyone in the community.
Whether the site will be dominated by the bike trails and related activities and not genuinely welcoming to the wider community.