Update on possible location of North East’s first off-road bike park

More details have been revealed about a proposed off-road bike park aiming to curb anti-social behaviour in Sunderland and South Tyneside. It was revealed last year that Northumbria Police hoped to develop a dedicated facility to divert off-road motorbikes to, in an attempt to tackle issues often raised in populated areas.

Motorcycle disorder is a regular topic at council meetings across the region, with concerns over speeding, noise and public safety, and the proposed ‘bike park’ model follows in the footsteps of police in Scotland. In an update to the latest meeting of Sunderland City Council’s Scrutiny Co-ordinating Committee on Thursday (November 10), the proposed location of the bike park was discussed.

This includes a parcel of land in the Follingsby Park area bordering South Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead council areas. Councillors were told a landowner was willing to have a site used as an off-road motorcycle area.

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However, the development would be subject to a formal planning application to South Tyneside Council, as the site falls within its local authority boundary. Stephen Laverton, strategic manager for community safety and safeguarding, said the scheme was in the ‘pre-planning application’ stage.

He added the solution to the off-road motorcycle issue was “not all about enforcement [but] about trying to find a legal site to direct people to”. Chief inspector Neil Hall, of Northumbria Police, also confirmed there had been a residents meeting linked to the proposed motorbike park site which was “more positive than negative”.

Councillor Michael Butler, Southwick ward representative, said the proposal was the “right approach” to deal with off-road motorcycle issues at areas such as Fulwell Quarry, as motorbikes could have impacts on protected nature sites. The councillor said riding motorcycles on the land had been a “rite of passage for people in the surrounding estates” but that plans aimed to provide a “credible alternative” to the Fulwell Quarry site.

Cllr Butler added people who were transporting off-road motorbikes to locations to ride responsibly were being stopped by police which had encouraged them, instead, to ride through the streets. Councillor Paul Edgeworth, Sandhill ward councillor, said the motorcycle park was a “step in the right direction” but would only attract “responsible people”.

Councillor Michael Hartnack, Fulwell ward representative, agreed the scheme was a “great idea” but added he was “sceptical” about whether it would work in practice. The councillor suggested people may lack trailers to take motorbikes to the legal site and that the scheme may not “reduce the problem” in relation to the vehicles being used on roads and public places.

Cllr Hartnack, a former senior police officer in Sunderland, also raised concerns about recent serious accidents involving off-road motorbikes on roads and said more enforcement was needed to “get a grip” of the issue. He added: “I think that the stick isn’t strong enough and I think the stick needs to be well and truly enforced in my view”.

Cllr Butler, responding, said the off-road bike park proposals represented “more lateral thinking” and had seen positive results over the border in Scotland. As previously reported, a working group has been set up by police looking to tackle the off-road motorbike issue.

The group has had discussions with police in Scotland, who have already adopted a similar bike park, on how best to implement it. Several Sunderland councillors on the Scrutiny Co-ordinating Committee said motorcycle disorder is the biggest issue they deal with in terms of complaints from local residents.

Councillor Dianne Snowdon, chair of the panel, stressed public reporting was key to help tackle the issue. Cllr Snowdon added: “We do get successes but we need that intelligence from residents for the illegal bikes.

“It’s our residents that are hiding them, it’s our residents that are riding them, we need the intelligence to help the police and the council”. To date, no formal planning application has been registered by South Tyneside Council for an off-road motorcycle park at Follingsby Park.

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