Bike trail creator blasts the "fun police" for putting South Ribble track under threat
A father from Walton-le-Dale has condemned “the fun police” for putting the brakes on a mountain bike trail which he helped create for families in the area during the lockdown.
Oliver Fitchett and a group of young riders set up the course in Carr Wood – and the dad-of-three says that it is being used responsibly by locals as their one permitted period of exercise per day under the current movement restrictions.
But the track has now had a seemingly insurmountable obstacle put in its own path, after concerns were raised over safety and complaints received about damage to the area – leaving a question mark hanging over its future.
However, Oliver believes that a vocal minority want to see the trail ground into the dirt at the expense of those who are benefitting from it, and he insists that fears about social distancing are misplaced.
“It’s had such a massive impact on the area and most people have supported it, so it’s a shame that some want to see it taken away from the kids – yet they would be the ones to stereotype those kids for hanging around on the street.
“You have to go out of your way to find the obstacles, they are away from the main path and it’s not an advanced track at all – there aren’t 20-metre gaps or anything like that.
“We want to manage a timescale and one-way system for people using it, because keeping the [two-metre] distance is very important. We also make it clear that you’re only here to have a quick ride and then go back home,” said Oliver, who is a father to three daughters.
Lancashire County Council, which owns the land, has ordered that “unauthorised construction” of the trails be halted – and has said that it will remove any features which it “considers inappropriate”.
However, some of the track’s features have already been dismantled by people Oliver believes object to the spare-of-the-moment project.
“They have gone out of their way to destroy it and actually make it unsafe for the regular users, who won’t be expecting it to be any different to the last time they used it – and could go over their handlebars as a result.
“The county council should acknowledge the lads who have created it and put something in place for them permanently.”
South Ribble councillor Damien Bretherton, in whose Walton-le Dale West ward the woods are located, says that he does not believe that the makeshift track is doing any harm.
“It almost looks like it’s been made by machines – the lads have done a professional job and put a lot of effort in. They haven’t done any damage and are wearing helmets when they use it – I think it should very much be encouraged.
“One of my sons was quite upset when he heard that it might be torn up,” added Cllr Bretherton, whose fellow ward councillor Matt Campbell has offered to act as an intermediary between the county council and the group which established the trail.
South Ribble Council’s youth champion Matthew Trafford has also backed the borough’s young bikers – and wrote to county council officers calling on them to do all they can to maintain “a positive community asset in an overwhelmingly difficult time”.
He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I’d be grateful if they could respond as quickly as possible. I know they are under huge stress at the moment, but any uncertainty about this trail is going to be problematic.
“It could really help young people’s mental health, so it would be good if they could use it confidently.”
It is believed that the area was the location of a trail around 20 years ago, but that it has since fallen into disrepair. A petition calling for the current course to be maintained has now been signed by over 200 people.
A spokesperson for Lancashire County Council said: "We'll be inspecting in the coming days to see if people have stopped as we have asked - and take stock of anything further we may need to do. In the meantime, we'd encourage bikers to use the existing off road paths in the area, which are among the best in the county.
“We’re happy that people are discovering this local site which has served local residents for many years. However, the unauthorised construction and use of trails is damaging the sensitive plants and woodland and causing potential safety issues due to the mountain bikers riding at speed on sloping paths already being used by walkers.
“We have received a number of complaints from other users of this site who are concerned about the damage and their own safety.
“We’re aware that nearby BMX sites, such as Fishwick Recreation Ground, are currently closed due to the lockdown, but there is a good network of off-road cycle routes in the area at Preston Junction and Cuerden Valley Country Park where riders can enjoy the outdoors until other sites reopen.
“We work with mountain biking groups at places such as Healey Nab and the award winning Lee Quarry where the nature of the sites mean that mountain bikers are able to build and maintain their own trails without any negative impact on the site or other people.
“We would be happy to work with the people who have built these trails, and their local councillors, to offer advice and support with the benefit of this experience if they can find another local site which would be suitable.”