Managed by Forestry Enterprise Scotland (FES), Glentress Forest is a unique blend of commercial forestry activities, alongside wildlife and habitat conservation, while also providing Scotland’s premier mountain biking destination (the flagship ‘7stanes’ facility). It features over 50 miles of world class mountain biking trails, weaving their way through the hills. Recent investment into a high-quality visitor environment, that includes a café, bike shop / bike hire, as well as visitor centre and changing facilities has proved very successful. With strong growth projected, a planned approach to any future development was required to ensure that investment was coordinated and located sensitively, whilst still delivering the highest quality visitor experience.
Development proposals specifically needed to tackle the current length of visitor stay, not just at Glentress but within the region. Within the Scottish Borders an average visit was 2.2 days in 2015, effectively a weekend, while at Glentress it was 0.5 days, with visitors simply arriving for a short burst of activity and then leaving. This demonstrated the positive and negative impact of its proximity to populous areas such as Edinburgh and Glasgow. In order to bring maximum economic benefit, how could the masterplan attract people for longer stays at Glentress (overnight) and how could it contribute to attracting people to stay longer than just a couple of days in the wider Tweed Valley area?
Here we have set out some of the key lessons when tackling a project of this scale and complexity.
1. Start Strategic
It was clear that any Masterplan developed for Glentress would need to begin by looking well beyond the perimeter of the forest. We needed to understand and allow the wider region’s opportunities to inform our approach. Starting at a macro scale, we considered Glentress’ role as a key part of a potential ‘Tweed Valley Strategy’ and wider, comprehensive tourism destination. We mapped similar uses/destinations in the surrounding area, how they are all connected and what the community aspirations was for the wider valley. We identified significant nodes of activity, links/connections and areas of further opportunity throughout the area in order to inform how our future development proposals at Glentress could be complementary/fill the gaps. How could this masterplan assist with these connections?
“The Glentress masterplan is a vital strategic planning tool for FES which will prove valuable in ensuring that Glentress has a sustainable future where the needs of the existing site users, potential new users and the community are considered. During the earlier stages of the project I was impressed not only with how enthusiastic the Barton Willmore team were about the project, but also with the level of commitment they showed to ensure that a robust masterplan was created.”
Leona Wilkie, Head of Acquisitions & Development at FES
2. Build a true Partnership
From the outset, we developed an approach that was open and transparent. We sought to develop ideas and the subsequent masterplan in a way that was inclusive and would clearly demonstrate FES’s desire to support and complement the existing suppliers and community, not compete with it. To do this we needed to build and understanding and a consensus around clear objectives, as well as deliverable development principles that could potentially form planning guidance for future development. We used our engagement process to build a strong consensus relating to a Valley Strategy and then preferred Masterplan option for Glentress, and those who engaged with the process, including the Scottish Borders Council, quickly began to see the benefit as opposed to the threat of further investment / development. Some were event keen to keep talking beyond our engagement process, about the future of the region and review opportunities for working more collaboratively.
3. Think Long Term
By focusing on developing a longer-term vision – 15year development time frame – we could free people up from their cautious stance and often immediate resistance to change. By presenting how change over time could lead to significant benefits for all, we could break that change down into incremental steps which people can more easily understand and support.
4. Deliver Certainty
Our Partnership approach and comprehensive engagement process resulted in Scottish Borders Council adopting the masterplan as Supplementary Guidance. This is a significant step as it provides increased certainty which in turn allows FES to positively engage with potential investors, knowing that the principle of development in line with the masterplan will be acceptable.
In total, the Masterplan could deliver up to 50,000sqft of flexible development, offering largely commercial opportunities such as a hotel or chalet accommodation, retail units, office space, café/restaurant facilities and indoor recreation centre as well as public realm enhancement, an integrated multi-use path network and specific walking paths and bike trails. All of this would see the site grow to become a significant employer and economic generator within the region over the next 15 years, while still ensuring we deliver a fully integrated development within this unique landscape, to deliver the highest quality visitor experience. Going forwards, 2017 certainly looks like an exciting year for Glentress and the wider Scottish Borders tourism industry so watch this space!
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Tourism, Forestry Enterprise Scotland