Hopes are high that underpass project will get green light after successful event
A project that would put Loch Leven at the forefront of countryside access for disabled people in Scotland is one step closer to becoming a reality after a successful exhibition event on Friday.
Four Perth and Kinross Councillors, the MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, a Portmoak Community Councillor, leaders of local community groups and members of the Project Stakeholder Group gathered at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven on Friday to hear more about the plans to replace the current corrugated iron tunnel and steps below the B9097 with a more accessible underpass.
All four local ward councillors, Willie Robertson, Michael Barnacle, Callum Purves and Richard Watters are supportive of the project. The former three attended the event along with Councillor Ian Campbell, Leader of the Perth & Kinross, who last month received a letter co-signed by a Stakeholder Group to ask for financial backing for the popular project.
Following the event, Councillor Campbell said: "I was delighted to see the exciting plans for this project today. Perth & Kinross has been extremely supportive of this project over the years and Councillors Robertson and Barnacle have been stalwart supporters. I am sure that all members of Perth and Kinross Council would like to see this project succeed and we will consider every avenue possible to try to help get a successful outcome".
MSP Alex Rowley, who was also at the event, said: "This project will give even greater accessibility to more of the National Nature Reserve and is very welcome. Everyone involved should be very proud of their achievements to date and their ambition to bring more people to experience Loch Leven".
Guests were welcomed by the new Director of RSPB Scotland, Anne McCall, who explained why the charity is so keen to help facilitate this project on behalf of the local community. They then heard about the community benefits from local Councillor Willie Robertson, who is a member of the Stakeholder group, and Dave Morris of Portmoak Community Council, who spoke passionately of the need to improve the link between the paths, as well as visiting the current tunnel to discuss the project's ambitious vision.
The plan is to replace the 35-year old tunnel and steep steps, which are part of the Perth & Kinross Core Path Network and currently connect the "Sleeping Giant" path from Fife to the Loch Leven Heritage Trail, with a more accessible underpass that would incorporate gentle slopes for wheelchair and mobility scooter users and provide unimpeded access for cyclists and families with young children in pushchairs.
The event included an exhibition of plans for the new design, the environmental assessment, pictures of the existing tunnel and its construction, nearly 85 messages of support from visitors, and letters of support from local organisations including Ramblers Scotland and Cycling UK and visitors.
Alison Mitchell, Convenor of Ramblers Scotland, said: "Ramblers Scotland is pleased to support the project to create a new underpass. We've been involved in the development of the Heritage Trail for more than a decade and have been delighted to see the high number of users attracted to this beautiful area each year. We've long been aware that the existing tunnel and steps are not accessible to all users. The proposed underpass will be and will form an important link to the wider path network, especially given the new connecting trail (sleeping giant path) from Lochore Meadows to Loch Leven."
Davis Gibson is part of the Cycling UK Fife and Kinross Member Group. He said: "From a cyclist's point of view, the lack of a user-friendly link is a major issue. I see more and more people of mature years out cycling locally and there are I think several reasons for this: adults enjoying better health into their later years; the feel good factor that comes from outdoor activity; the development of power-assisted bicycles encouraging both new cyclists and others returning to the pastime, and crucially the creation of safe routes such as the Loch Leven Heritage Trail. However, it is impossible for most people to carry their bikes up and down three flights of steps, which is why creating a new underpass is such an important and worthwhile project. It is fantastic that RSPB Scotland is solidly behind this project and I sincerely hope it receives the support it deserves from others with the resources to help turn it into reality."
Planning permission for the new underpass has already been approved by Perth and Kinross Council and RSPB Scotland are acting as project coordinators on behalf of the stakeholders. The nature conservation charity has so far contributed more than £15,000 of its own funds as well as staff time and raised £18,000 towards the design phase, as well as redesigning its facilities to incorporate the new underpass and securing a provisional offer from Sustrans to fund 50 percent of the nearly £800,000 project. However, the search is still on to secure match funding for the new, more accessible, underpass.
Uwe Stoneman, Site Manager for RSPB Scotland's Loch Leven nature reserve, said: "We were delighted to support the partnerships that delivered the completed Loch Leven Heritage Trail in 2014 and the Sleeping Giant path in 2016 including nearly three miles of new trails on our reserve. We are thrilled to be working in partnership again, this time to complete an accessible link between these paths to help people of all abilities experience the beauty and benefits of nature at Loch Leven."
Since its completion in 2014, the Loch Leven Heritage trail now welcomes more than 200,000 visitors each year. The visitors to both this trail and the RSPB Scotland nature reserve are known to be predominantly the over 55s and families, with a growing number of cyclists taking advantage of the excellent facilities.
The new underpass will provide better and safer access between the two trails for less-mobile visitors, families with pushchairs and cyclists allowing them all to gain the health and well-being benefits of being in nature.
RSPB Scotland Loch Leven hosts visits from more than 2,500 children from local schools each year to help them get closer to nature. The new underpass will mean that school groups with less-mobile pupils will be able to use both the woodland and wetland when they visit without having to leave any pupils out.
And the new underpass will, for the first time, enable people with wheelchairs and mobility scooters to cross the B9097 safely and allow RSPB Scotland to support the Heritage Trail's mobility scooter scheme. This would open up additional parts of the trails and put Loch Leven at the forefront of disabled access to the countryside in Scotland.
- The Project Stakeholders Group includes The Rural Access Committee for Kinross-Shire (TRACKS), the Kinross-shire Partnership, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Sustrans, the disabled charity Homelands Trust-Fife, RSPB Scotland and Local Ward Councillor Willie Robertson.
- Sustrans is the charity making it easier for people to walk and cycle. We connect people and places, create liveable neighbourhoods, transform the school run and deliver a happier, healthier commute. Join us on our journey. www.sustrans.org.uk. For more information on recent research on the value of leisure cycle tourism please go to http://www.sustrans.org.uk/ScotlandTourism
- The Homelands Trust-Fife (SC027281) is an independent, Fife-based charity that provides short breaks and respite for disabled people, their families and carers in purpose-built, top quality, self-catering lodges in Lundin Links, Fife. For more information, please go to www.homelands-fife.co.uk.
- The Kinross-shire Partnership (www.kinrosspartnership.org.uk) is a rural development company established in 1998 under the direction of the Scottish Government and funded by Perth & Kinross Council. Membership of the Partnership comprises a mix of local business people, PKC Ward councillors and community representatives. The principal aims of the Partnership are to identify, promote and encourage opportunities for economic development, tourism, environmental improvement and community recreation. The Partnership also provides support for community groups and organisations.
- RSPB Scotland is part of the RSPB, the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.