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Hundreds of high-value jobs could be created in the Scottish Borders if plans go ahead to turn part of a 231-year-old woollen mill into the world’s first Mountain Bike Innovation Center. It’s expected that the U.K. Government will soon give the go-ahead – and the cash – for the transformation of Caerlee Mill, just off Innerleithen’s High Street in the Tweed Valley, 30 miles from Edinburgh.
The mill, which dates back to 1788, had been Scotland’s oldest continually-operating textile mill until it closed five years ago. The mill employed up to 400 people in its heyday, making tartan cloth and, latterly, cashmere fabrics.
The growth of mountain biking in the region has encouraged the powers-that-be to take the sport seriously, and the regeneration of Caerlee Mill as an MTB R&D hub could create jobs in the center itself as well as throughout the valley. When it closed in 2013 the mill employed 33 people.
In a return to the mill’s roots, some of the new jobs could involve university-led research into textiles – mountain bikers require clothing that keeps them warm and dry yet also protected from the inevitable bumps and scrapes of the sport.
Caerlee Mill was bought in 2017 by Edinburgh-based property developers Whiteburn Projects. The company is currently digging the foundations for 44 houses around the mill buildings which, because of heritage listing, cannot be pulled down.
A statement from Whiteburn said:
A consortium of bodies is currently exploring the viability of a mountain bike innovation center, linked to external cycling facilities facilitated through the Borderlands Growth Deal. This would be funded through the U.K. Government, and we understand an announcement from the U.K. Government will be forthcoming [soon].”
In the U.K. Government’s Spring Statement it was confirmed that the Borderlands Growth Deal would be funded through a £260 million grant, including £65 million for the Scottish Borders. However, the budget statement did not state which projects would be funded – an announcement on this is due soon.
One of the leading contenders for cash is the Mountain Bike Innovation Center’s renovation of Caerlee Mill. Once given the green light this R&D hub could be up and running by 2022.
The concepts for this park and the Mountain Bike Innovation Center were worked up by Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS), a partnership between Scottish Cycling, Edinburgh Napier University, Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Borders Council.
Ed Shoote of DMBinS said: “The Tweed Valley is already home to some of the best mountain bike riding in the UK and every year its reputation grows.”
He added that Innerleithen could become the “European Capital of Mountain Biking.”
The proposed bike park has been designed by Select Contracts of Whistler, Canada. Plans for the Mountain Bike Innovation Center have been developed by Newcastle-based “smart cities” consultancy Urban Foresight and modelled on similar schemes elsewhere in the EU, such as Flanders Bike Valley in Belgium which is a cluster of road race cycling companies situated close to BikeVille, an innovations center with its own wind tunnel and other R&D features.
Flanders Bike Valley was founded in 2013 with financial support from the government of Flanders, and is based on Flanders Drive, a cluster of automotive companies. More than 70 cycle-related companies are now members of Flanders Bike Valley, some of them based within one kilometer of BikeVille.
There are two other “Bicycle Valleys” in Europe – one in Portugal, and one in Romania.
Bike Valley Portugal is a collaboration between Rodi, Miranda, Polisport and other manufacturing companies, and is based in the small but hilly city of Agueda. Brought together by ABIMOTA (the Portuguese association of bicycle, motorcycle and accessories producers) Bike Valley Portugal is organized around the production of aluminum frames and parts.
Unlike the Flanders Bike Valley, which is a cluster of companies in close proximity, the Romanian Bike Valley is made up of bike and component makers spread further apart.
Why cluster? It gives the companies involved competitive advantages. Banks have been doing it for hundreds of years, and car companies have been doing it since the early 1900s, copying the bicycle industry which started clustering around Birmingham and Coventry in the 1870s.
In an era of global competition, rapid transport and high-speed telecommunications there should be little need for geographical clusterings but they still offer benefits such as a pool of skilled workers and economies of scale. They can also stimulate innovation, even between what would normally be considered competing businesses.
“We’ve been inspired by other innovation centers around the world like Bike Valley Portugal and Bike Valley Flanders,” said Danny Cowe of the Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland, a business-growth initiative of Edinburgh Napier University, DMBinS and Scottish Enterprise.
He added: “We won’t be building a wind tunnel, we will work with wear and tear and the abuse that [mountain bikes] get.”
Cowe believes the center could improve mountain bike suspension – with trail access almost out of the door – and also do experimental work on electric mountain bikes, such as developing graphene batteries. It could also research how to easily and cheaply recycle composite materials. (High-end mountain bikes have carbon composite frames and wheel rims.)
“We are also looking at how can we have an instrumented trail,” said Cowe, allowing companies to test their bikes and products in an open-air lab. The goal is to first attract Scottish and English companies to locate in or close to the center, and then, long-term, for international mountain-bike companies to also have a presence.
“People can build stuff and immediately go ride it,” enthused Cowe.
“We are less than a 60 minute drive from Edinburgh and 90 minutes to two hours from Glasgow and about two and a bit from Newcastle. Within the wider area, there are nine universities, and there’s a huge manufacturing base as well.”
“My dream,” explained Cowe, “is that we have an ecosystem of cycling industry companies within this area, with entrepreneurs coming through using the facilities [at the Mountain Bike Innovation Center].”
The center could also become a hotbed for product launches and athlete testing. But Caerlee Mill is too large for mountain biking alone so, alongside the plans for MTB R&D, there will be community facilities including a climbing wall, a gym and a nursery.
“The Tweed Valley [has suffered from] deindustrialization,” said Cowe.
“There are not many high-value jobs here. The Mountain Bike Innovation Center could change all that.”
April 26, 2019 at 12:53PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs