Recently we ran a piece about Dave Viner’s efforts to get an indoor velodrome built for Birmingham.

‘Unknowns to us’ at the time, there’s a similar project trying to get off the ground much closer to home – the City on the Ness to be specific. We spoke to Mike Greaves, one of the men behind it…

Who had the initial idea of constructing an indoor cycling track in the Inverness area?

“I produced an ‘ideas’ leaflet in 2007. This set out the strategic case for a velodrome serving the north of Scotland (Meadowbank was getting very second-hand by this stage and Manchester was the nearest indoor facility). 

“It also rehearsed the benefits for safe year-round exercise and cycle skills training in an area noted for adverse weather, restricted hours of winter daylight and poor roads. 

“The pamphlet was welcomed by NoSCA (North of Scotland Cycling Association) and promptly drew the support of John MacMillan, a renowned coach and vastly experienced timekeeper/commissaire.”

Is there a committee which manages things now – who’s on it?

“A business plan was put together in 2008 but the great financial crash later that year completely pulled the rug from under our feet. 

“Nobody had any money and we basically marked time for the next five years. 

“However, by 2013 there was renewed interest and additional personnel willing to serve as Trustees on a charitable company (HiVelo) set up specifically to drive the velodrome project. 

“We are all club cyclists here in the Highlands and our six directors include two former Presidents of Scottish Cycling – John MacMillan and Alasdair Maclennan.”

HiVelo
Scottish Cycling’s Alasdair Maclennan (L) at the Tour of Britain start in Edinburgh a few years ago, with Mark Stewart. Photo©Martin Williamson

A venue has been suggested?

“HiVelo duly drew up plans for a low-cost training velodrome in 2015, and spirits were then greatly lifted by the Highland Council announcing a new Regional Sports Facility to be built at the Bught, Inverness. 

“This featured a showcase 250m indoor track, only the seventh in Britain, along with ‘state of the art’ facilities for indoor tennis, athletics, judo and gymnastics. 

“Costed at £33m, funding support included £7m of sportscotland (Lottery) money specifically ringfenced for Inverness as part of a Commonwealth Games legacy pot. 

“Sadly, failure to secure Government backing from the Inverness City Deal package and the continuing climate of austerity brought even this project to its knees by March 2018. 

“HiVelo had learnt many lessons by this stage. 

“It had also built up a wide network of contacts and had the enthusiastic support of a professional design team ably led by LDN Architects.”

Are there other facilities within the proposed building?

“We now have a revised ‘Highland Arena’ project which is a multi-sport complex built around a 200m velodrome and 8-court Sports Hall with wide community/fitness use permutations.”

But are there enough cyclists in the area to justify it?

“Location on the new Inverness Campus (UHI), would put us at the heart of regional transport routes serving a catchment of over one million residents and two/three million visitors per annum, in the middle of the rapidly growing East Inverness area, and with a vibrant student/academic/research community within easy walking distance. 

“A major hotel is scheduled to be built on the adjoining plot and the Campus is a stand-out exemplar for ‘active travel’ including two National Cycling routes (Sustrans). 

“The North (and North East) of Scotland already punches well above its weight in the strength of its cycling community and the accessibility and convenience of the new track will further reinforce that contribution nationally.”

Is there a similar velodrome elsewhere in Europe to compare with?

“Yes, there are dozens of 200m velodromes, both covered and open air around the world. 

“The best example would probably be the indoor track constructed within the UCI Headquarters complex at Aigle in Switzerland.

“One of our ‘champion’ supporters and a native Highlander, Craig MacLean, now works there and is a strong advocate of the facility.”

HiVelo
Granton on Spey’s Craig MacLean (R) and tandem partner Neil Fachie, Gold at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Photo©Martin Williamson

Is the project eligible for lottery funding?

“Lottery funding for major capital projects is administered through sportscotland. 

“We are in regular communication with their senior staff and hope to secure a significant award as a key element in our overall funding package.”

Have you had an estimate from a track builder?

“Our experienced design team includes Sander Douma from the Netherlands who has an extensive background in the design and construction of velodromes around the world. 

“A high-performance wooden track costs less than £1,000,000 – the real expense lies in building the accommodation and support services. 

“Our project with an anticipated completion date of winter 2021/22 is currently priced at £15m ex-VAT.”

Is there any money in the pot yet?

“Our funding strategy has four elements, each of which is being progressed at the present time. 

“Our business model is built around community ownership and not-for-profit operation – a ‘social enterprise’ route which has many applications in other sectors of the economy. 

“HiVelo will be joined in the next few months by a second entity HAL which will oversee the building of the new Arena, take ownership and run the facilities. Finance from that sector will include crowdfunding, sale of community shares and patient loan capital. 

“We are in discussions with a number of public sector agencies to access various strands of development grant aid. 

“Partnership with major commercial sponsors is another key focus and we will also be approaching a number of charitable institutions who share our aspirations towards motivating young people, excluded and disadvantaged groups.”

What’s Scottish Cycling’s attitude towards the project?

“Fully supportive. 

“We have met with the chair and chief executive on several occasions in order to keep them fully briefed on progress. 

“The revised National Facilities Strategy covering Scotland will be published in 2020 and we fully expect the Highland Arena proposals to be endorsed therein.”

Why not go for a 250 metre track so you can hold UCI meets?

“Our vision is to create a safe all-weather modern training venue to serve the North of Scotland. 

“One that is fully complementary to the established national track centres in Glasgow and Manchester, both superb 250m facilities. 

“Any international competition in Scotland will naturally gravitate to Glasgow. 

“Building a 250m velodrome would add £4-5m. to our bottom line!”

Will Scottish Cycling sanction Scottish Championships on a 200 metre track?

“A decision has still to be made on the level of homologation to be sought for our track, and this will determine in part the seniority of championships that could be held there in future. 

“The track will be constructed to very high standards and we would be delighted to be awarded an occasional Scottish National or say British Universities championships. 

“Indeed, as the only university campus featuring an indoor velodrome, we believe this will greatly boost the student numbers putting UHI at the top of their selection in decades to come!”

If folks want to know more or donate, what should they do?

“Explore www.hivelo.org which is our online crowdfunding site where you can read more about the project and see the growing list of cycling luminaries who are lending their support each month. 

“Any donation (£5 or more) will be gratefully received and acknowledged. 

“If you pay UK income tax then please sign the ‘gift aid’ declaration whereby we can also recover a 25% boost to your donation from the Treasury. 

“We expect to welcome many visitors from all over the UK and further afield with the opportunity to ride these boards in years to come. 

“Please help to make this a reality.”