If evidence was required that the Peak District National Park Authority is taking cycling seriously it arrived in the form of the first ever Peak Park Cycling Summit held recently at Thornbridge Outdoors in Great Longstone. Ride Sheffield should again take pride in the fact that we were invited to the meeting and, on a number of occasions, asked by fellow cyclists and organisations how we’d managed to get such a vibrant and effective group established so quickly to which the obvious reply was, well that’s Sheffield mountain bikers for you!
The meeting had two aims. Firstly to bring together cyclists, local authorities, land managers and Peak Park officers to find ways of turning the Peak District into the country’s number one cycling destination. Much good work has been done over the last few years including the expansion of the Monsal trail through reopened railway tunnels. However, the emphasis thus far has been on leisure cycling and the need to engage road cyclists and mountain bikers is now reasonably well understood.
The second reason for the meeting was that a large amount of government money is up for grabs. National Parks have the opportunity to bid for up to £5m in a single bid to achieve a large-scale cycling scheme that will encourage greater participation and economic regeneration. With the deadline for a bid only eight weeks away, the pressure is on.
Initially, much of the talk was about cycle tourism, effectively mum, dad and two kids enjoying a gentle bimble along the Tissington Trail while on holiday. Ride Sheffield pointed out that this was merely the tip of a very big iceberg that includes thousands of mountain bikers who ride out from local cities week after week and visitors from all over the country who revere Peak District singletrack. As often happens, once mountain biking had been mentioned, all the secret dirty bikers began to make themselves heard. Chief among those was our host on the day, Adge Last. Father of the brilliant Annie and super-keen biker and climber himself, he argued that it was crucial that those present didn’t assume that flattening out trails and making them suitable for beginners was the way to popularise cycling as difficulty and technicality were equally important, particularly when trying to engage the young.
It’s important to stress that the meeting wasn’t simply a talking shop. We formed into regional groups and began to identify the glaring gaps in the cycle network on Ordnance Survey maps. The Sheffield group was by far the most vocal and energetic of the lot and, with input from Dan Cook and Steve Marsden of the CTC, the map was soon liberally covered with red dots signifying the many missing links in the Eastern Peak network.
The afternoon session concentrated on searching for a big idea that could form the basis for the bid. Most of the proposals involved making certain areas the focus of cycling activity or further improvements to the existing network of leisure trails. Ride Sheffield and others pressed the case that the Peak has considerable potential for a trail centre. It was also pointed out that it’s not necessary for new trails to revolve around one mega-centre, it’s perfectly possible to construct a multi-centre plan based on the Lancashire model with a number of smaller centres based around quarries or small plantations. This vision eventually received considerable support.
So what’s next? The conclusions of the meeting will be drawn together and a steering group will be formed to come up with a suitable plan to form a basis for the bid. The Peak Park Authority has undertaken to use the findings of the meeting to inform its general policy over the next few years. Ride Sheffield hopes to be heavily involved throughout.