I don't normally reproduce whole Scotsman articles – but I've already had several requests to reproduce this in full from people who can't get Scotsmans where they live.
In a Scottish Borders forest, a cafe and bike shop is set to close.
What of it?
The Hub in Glentress is a bit unusual.
It's an award-winning venture set up ten years ago by Emma Guy from Penicuik and Tracey Brunger from Kent -- young professional mountain bike champions.
That's a bit unusual already.
Folk living in Scotland are less likely to set up a business than anyone else in the UK. Women are less likely than men, young people less likely than older people and rural locations less likely than urban ones.
So Emma and Tracey are gold-dust. Exceptional, talented young women keen to set up their own business miles from the nearest town.
In 2002 they won a Forestry Commission tendering process to run a cafe/bike shop at the Glentress car-park. It was a five year lease and the pair sold everything they owned to fund the Hub Cafe and bike shop. It made no profit for years, but slowly built trade and a loyal mountain bike community. The Hub owners hatched plans to extend and improve their cabin premises – but the Forestry Commission had other ideas and spent almost £9million to build a 5 star cafe, restaurant and shop facility called the Peel Centre which is due to open this Spring.
And that means the Hub has to go.
They didn't win either of the management contracts and when the cafe lease runs out next year, 30 full and part-time staff will be asked to leave.
What of it? Rules are rules. The Hub failed to make the best bid. Sentiment plays no part in business. Even in a forest.
According to the Hub, the visitor numbers which underpinned the tender were hopelessly optimistic. The Commission says a survey shows 301,000 visits to Glentress in 2009/10 -- half by mountain bikers. The Hub estimate 120,000 visits -- 80% by mountain bikers – and base that on car park spaces, receipts, another survey and the evidence of their own two sets of eyes.
What of it?
Local people lose tenders to more "optimistic" incomers every day. Small businesses lose out to bigger ones. People who know their patch lose out to people who know their tender documents. Creators lose out to followers. The world is unjust.
Who knows which set of visitor figures is correct. Who knows if record-breaking petrol prices will deter those visitors from making more weekend trips?
The lavish Peel Centre is a gamble. And that's fine – gambles can pay off. But what if this one doesn't? Then the Hub will have been sacrificed for nothing.
Why can't the Forestry Commission let them stay and develop their business? If there are 300 thousand visitors there's room enough for everyone.
Why not let both businesses thrive?
For one simple reason – the Hub duo don't own land, they rent it.
Only in Scotland could this happen. Only in Scotland are so many people tenants not owners of land.
The Forestry Commission is Scotland's largest landowner. Thanks to Scotland's uniquely appalling history of feudal land ownership, they have relatively few small-scale owners to contend with. Throughout the rest of Northern Europe, forests are studded with tens of thousands of small wooden cabins, farmer/foresters, and small businesses. Ordinary people from the Russia Steppe to the Norwegian fjords own forest land -- descendants of peasants who were poor but not disposable.
Across the North Sea, forests aren't dead zones, glens aren't empty, hut and cabin owners have rights and widespread land ownership in the countryside is the norm.
Scotland is still different. Land reform legislation has barely made a dent.
The Scottish government encourages women, young people and rural dwellers to screw up their courage, swim against the tide of their hesitant demographics and set up businesses. When they do – and when it works -- they are tendered out of existence and effectively evicted by state-managed custodians of the land.
I'm with the Hub owners if they decide not to go quietly. The Forestry Commission should find a way to sell them land and let them stay.
Ah, but the rules. The rules that doubtless say quangos cannot sell land to tenants.
Those rules have given us modern Scotland – a land full of dislocation and disconnection. A temporary world in which tenants perch but cannot plan – nibble but cannot nest. A world in which the liveliest young people can have the spirit knocked out of them because they cannot own the land on which their venture sits.
The rules cannot spell loyalty, recognise dedication or count the loss of hopeful energy.
The rules have dispatched a million tenants noisier then these.
The rules have to change.
Forestry Commission land is Scotland's land – it belongs to the people not to administrators. I'd wager most Scots would want a business like the Hub to stay -- not to be evicted like unclean beggars on the footsteps of a five star Elysian palace next month.
The Peel Centre has been built, other businesses have tendered in good faith so they should be allowed to run the five star enterprise.
The Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh has three cafes – why not Glentress?
Why not allow one alternative, biker-facing business to stay true to the muddy, low key and casual origins of the sport?
Indeed why not sell off small plots of land in every forest so Scots can emulate their healthier, happier northern neighbours and experience nature affordably and first hand?
Why not encourage councils to suspend empty-glen oriented planning rules so huts can be built anywhere?
Between the wars workers built huts to escape the squalour of urban living. Within a decade their efforts were stopped by planners. In 2000 only 630 huts were left in Scotland. Almost all have since been evicted and the Carbeth hutters must raise £2 million for a community buyout of their land this year.
Why are the authorities so scared of people living and working in forests as owners not tenants?
The women who ploughed their life savings into the Hub are part of a long and un-recognised cabin tradition. Makeshift, low-cost, easy-going co-operative ventures like theirs could be the first genuinely green shoots of a sustainable new future.
When will any government tackle the unsustainable rules which are keeping people off the land in Scotland?