On the day that London got the Olympics, Steve Baskerville of Belfast MTB shop Real Cycles said:
"It’s a very sad day here in Northern Ireland. After three years of talks, Forest Services (our version of the Forestry Commission) have pulled the plug on plans to build XC and DH trails on Forest Services managed land. Over the last three years they have asked for more and more proof that it would work and even after three positive financial appraisals, the most recent reccommending that two test trails be developed immediately, they were still not keen, and have now put their cards on the table and said no to everything except one family trail, in one of the few forests that already had cycle trails."
"Forest Services as now destroyed any hope that Northern Ireland might follow the rest of Europe into an era of off road cycling development in its major forests, despite the proven health and financial benefits to the greater population. Once again this proves that the people of Northern Ireland are treated like second class citizens when compared to the rest of the UK and Europe."
Dawson Stelfox, the chairman of Northern Ireland’s Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN), has written to the head of Forest Services, complaining about the route rout:
""This disappointment is felt not only by mountain bikers, but also the rural communities across Northern Ireland that were so eagerly waiting on the development of the trails and the significant benefits they would bring, as evidenced in Scotland, England and Wales."
CAAN has been pushing for the trail provision and believed it could have secured £2m in grants to seed-fund the project.
Stelfox said: "The main reason that Forest Service bought into the Off-Road Cycling Strategy (2002) was to address its problem of illegal use by a rapidly growing number of mountain bikers. It is short sighted that Forest Service has effectively turned down an opportunity to address, using sound management practices, the on-going problem of informal mountain biking at its properties across Northern Ireland.
"It is of increasing concern to the Network that the activity continues to take place in an illegal and often unsafe manner and that Forest Service continues to not manage this activity. Conflict between user groups is already taking place and will no doubt continue to escalate. Although sound trail design and certification by IMBA (as proposed by CAAN) will not eliminate the risk of claims, when coupled with appropriate signage and adequate information (to ensure users are aware of what they are undertaking), there is no doubt that the risk could have been dramatically reduced."
Baskerville said Forestry Services should pay attention to the trail provision in England, Scotland and Wales, where the Forestry Commission runs an ‘Active Woods’ campaign.
"Forestry Services do not see the future of our forests as places to recreate in," said Baskerville.
"They see them purely as a place to produce timber."
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