Council looks to capital to transform fortunes

Pic Lisa Ferguson 24/03/2015'Edinburgh skyline, buildings'Edinburgh Castle
Pic Lisa Ferguson 24/03/2015'Edinburgh skyline, buildings'Edinburgh Castle

The economic fortunes of the Borders have become ever more linked to those of Edinburgh as a result of two major initiatives signed off last week.

As expected, Scottish Borders Council gave its enthusiastic support to the Borders Railway Blueprint – an £8million package of public investment aimed at fully exploiting the job creation and tourism potential of the train’s return from September.

For its part, SBC will contribute £7.6million on a range of projects, including the Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre and industrial units at a new business park at Tweedbank.

In addition, the council will contribute to the marketing of the £354million line, the scoping of the route being extended south, the provision of walking and cycling paths and the development of integrated transport at stations.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity which means we are more than doubling our money thanks to investment from the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, City of Edinburgh Council and other partners,” said Councillor Stuart Bell, executive member for economic development.

Explicit in the blueprint is the requirement for the railway to “make it easier for people in Edinburgh to commute to Midlothian and the Scottish Borders”, but Mr Bell sees things differently.

“We don’t just want the railway to take people to work in Edinburgh – we want it to help bring businesses to be located in the Borders,” he told us.

On the same day that deal was approved, the council announced it had signed up to an even more ambitious initiative with the potential to create thousands of new jobs across the region in the longer term.

SBC has joined with the five councils of Edinburgh, the Lothians and Fife in a bid to secure a so-called City Deal.

“We will now go, as one group with one voice, to the Scottish and UK Governments seeking their agreement to develop a proposition which, at its heart, would involve a £1billion infrastructure fund for priority areas like transport, housing and the creation of new industries,” said Mr Bell.

“Based on a City Deal introduced in Glasgow and its satellite councils last year, we would estimate that an additional £3.2billion of private sector investment could be leveraged, allowing us to generate sustainable economic growth of 5 per cent.

“Specific projects have yet to be finalised, but I would expect we will want to address improvements in east-west transport connectivity across the region, to stimulate new housebuilding and encourage sunlight industries.

“Conversations I have had with civic leaders in Edinburgh have convinced me they recognise that, for the city to grow, they need neighbouring local authorities to accommodate growth in employment. I am determined the Borders will get more than its fair share of that economic dividend.”