Will a Mountain Bike Park get ‘more people, more active, more often’?
BANES council’s stated purpose in all that they do is to improve people’s lives in Bath & North East Somerset. Part of this is helping to improve physical and mental well-being health for local residents, through investing in leisure services. There is a policy for getting ‘More People, More Active, More Often’ and a list of target groups for this:
11-18 year olds (particularly girls)
Those carrying excess weight
Families with pre-schoolers and expectant mothers
Those with disabilities and long term health conditions
Geographical areas with low levels of activity (including our neighbouring wards of Odd Down, Southdown and Twerton).
It is hard to see how the proposals to develop a mountain bike park on Entry Hill Golf Course will achieve this. The current concept plan for the project does not show an inclusive leisure facility. It shows a pay-to-access network of downhill mountain bike trails, which occupy most of the usable space. Our family are keen mountain bikers and have used mountain bike parks across the country. From this we know that mountain biking is not currently a diverse sport. It is a high-adrenaline activity and the majority of mountain bikers are men, white, young/middle-aged, already fit and relatively affluent (equipment is expensive).
This is accepted by Pedal Progression Ltd, who have been selected to operate the site. They are clearly passionate about mountain biking and appear well-intentioned, wishing to widen participation in the sport eg by increasing the number of women involved. But their attempts to set up a women-only group in Bristol failed, because they could not find a female coach for the group. They have also recently advertised on social media for women and members of the BAME community to be photographed on the Ashton Court bike trails for PR purposes, to make the sport look more welcoming to these groups. This demonstrates that they are still struggling to address this issue, even after many years running the Ashton Court site.
Pedal Progression have made statements on inclusivity statements and have positive aspirations. But there is a real possibility that this valuable ‘green lung’ of the city will become a facility mainly used by already active, white, affluent, men and boys. There is already evidence that the main target group will be the large population of 15-24 year olds living within 5 miles of the site (many of whom are students). It will also be attractive to mountain bikers from further afield. Whilst Pedal Progression might aim to increase diversity in the sport, it is clear that, in the short to medium term, large parts of the local community - women, the elderly, the ill, unfit, disabled, low income families and the BAME community will be significantly under-represented in this leisure facility.
The business model for the mountain bike park must generate sufficient revenue to pay for the high cost of construction. The cost of a family ticket will be around £24 to access the mountain bike trails. The concept plan shows that the majority of the area will be set aside for paying mountain bike visitors. The proposed ‘community area’ is shown on the plans as a narrow zone around the perimeter fence, separating off the paid-for biking facilities. It is hard to believe that walking, running or playing will have much appeal next to a busy and noisy bike park and in a restricted space outside the large fenced-in biking area.
The bidding process for this green space was an exciting opportunity for BANES to create a leisure facility that could have a significant impact on the physical and mental health of the whole community with a particular focus on the needs of those that are currently less active . Instead, this bike park seems to be designed as an ‘attraction’, bringing in mountain bike enthusiasts from outside the local area, with only limited interest for the majority of local council taxpayers. A more moderate project, requiring much less investment and risk, would reduce the pressure on generating such high levels of revenue and present opportunities for a facility that serves the needs of a much wider cross-section of the Bath community.
I really hope that BANES will think hard about whether this proposal is the best way to achieve the aim of getting more people, more active, more often.