The search is on for match funding to secure a new, more accessible, underpass, to connect the "Sleeping Giant" path from Fife to the Loch Leven Heritage Trail, after a provisional offer from Sustrans to fund 50 percent of the nearly £800,000 project.
Councillor Ian Campbell, Leader of the Perth & Kinross, will today [15 June] receive a letter co-signed by a Stakeholder Group to ask for financial backing for the popular project. The stakeholders include 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.
Cllr Robertson said: "We are most grateful for the provisional offer from Sustrans. However, their offer is dependent on sourcing £381,775 of match funding and completing the project this financial year, so it's imperative that the remaining money is found in the next few months. We have written to the Perth & Kinross council to ask for their support and are actively seeking other funding partners".
Perth & Kinross Council owns and maintains the current corrugated iron tunnel and steps, which are part of the Perth & Kinross Core Path Network. The tunnel was constructed in 1982 and can only be accessed by steep steps on either side of the B9097 road. This is an obstacle for cyclists, families with pushchairs and less-mobile members of the public, while completely restricting access for wheelchair and mobility scooter users. The proposed project aims to remove these access barriers by constructing a new 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 provisional offer of £381,775 through the Sustrans Community Links Award, amounts to 50 percent of the total project cost and has been a huge boost to the Project. Daisy Narayanan, Deputy Director (Built Environment) for Sustrans Scotland said: "We are delighted to support this initiative to improve links to the National Cycle Network Routes at Loch Leven. This will allow safe and accessible walking and cycling across the path networks and link in better to the wonderful new Loch Leven Heritage Trail. Recent research by Sustrans has shown the economic value of leisure cycling on the National Cycle Network was worth £345M in 2015. We would hope that the project, if it goes ahead, would bring some of these benefits to Loch Leven as well as helping more visitors and staff to access RSPB Scotland Loch Leven by bike."
The completion of the Loch Leven Heritage Trail in 2014 extended the trail around the loch's entire circumference. The 21km trail, which now welcomes more than 200,000 visitors a year, is level and barrier-free for most of its length making it suitable for walkers, cyclists and wheelchair and motorized scooter users. In 2016, the creation of the sleeping giant path, which links the Fife Core Path Network to the Loch Leven Heritage Trail, via RSPB Scotland Loch Leven, provided additional access to the natural riches of the whole Loch Leven National Nature Reserve for communities in West Fife.
Replacing the current steps and corrugated iron tunnel with a more accessible underpass will allow better and safer access between the two trails for cyclists, families with pushchairs and less-mobile members of the public. The project will also, for the first time, enable people with wheelchairs and mobility scooters to cross the B9097 safely and make it possible for RSPB Scotland to support the Loch Leven Heritage Trail free mobility scooter scheme, by becoming its third base station. This innovative scheme, which is already underway around the heritage trail, enables less mobile members of the public to borrow a mobility scooter (free of charge) so that they can travel around the heritage trail and enjoy nature as well as all the facilities on offer.
Jan Kerr, secretary of the Homelands Trust-Fife, said: "If the project is successful, disabled guests staying at Homelands' accessible, self-catering lodges will be able to visit the Heritage Trail and gain direct access from the trail to RSPB Scotland Loch Leven in wheelchairs and mobility scooters, something that was previously impossible. An additional scooter hire site at the RSPB Scotland centre will allow them to explore all sections of the trail and put Loch Leven at the forefront of countryside access for disabled people in Scotland".
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 charity will provide land, further staff time, project management and administrative support to the project. RSPB Scotland has already raised £18,000 and has itself contributed £15,000 of its own funds for a feasibility study, design and site investigations
Uwe Stoneman, Site Manager for RSPB Scotland's Loch Leven nature reserve, said: "Loch Leven is a great place for people to experience the beauty and benefits of nature. It would be wonderful to have easier access for families and other visitors from our visitor centre and from the sleeping giant path to the Heritage Trail. We have a good track record of assisting others to achieve ambitious projects, such as the two community trails that travel through our reserve. We hope that the underpass project is successful in achieving much better access between these trails and helps people of all abilities get closer to nature and improve their wellbeing."
Funding is also being sought from a number of other sources and there will be a project exhibition on 7 July for stakeholders and potential funders to find our more about the proposals.
1. 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
2. For more information on recent research on the value of leisure cycle tourism please go to http://www.sustrans.org.uk/ScotlandTourism
3. 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.
4. 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. From time to time specialists are co-opted to assist with projects and initiatives. 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.
5. 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.