IT may not become a reality in the lifetime of some elected members on the executive committee of Scottish Borders Council (SBC), but the provision of a second river crossing in Peebles appears to have become a political hot potato ahead of next May’s local government election.
Earlier this month, the executive split on the question of how many possible routes for a bridge should be considered by a firm of traffic consultants which has been asked to suggest solutions for the town’s chronic traffic problems, not least the reduce pressure on High Street.
The MVA Consultancy completed the first part of its £75,000 study, using so-called Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG), in November last year.
It noted that traffic flows over Tweed Bridge, which links High Street to the south of the town, had increased dramatically in the previous five years, not least because of the private sector housing explosion to the south. SBC levies on the developers involved funded the study.
One of the key objectives identified in the STAG report was “to reduce reliance on Tweed Bridge as the only river crossing for motorised traffic in the town”.
In March this year, about 300 townsfolk attended a two-day public exhibition on the six crossing options identified by the consultants.
The most popular was the one closest to the current bridge and the town centre, following the line of the old railway from the Edinburgh road roundabout over Walkershaugh, with 23 per cent saying it was their preferred location. Bottom of the poll, with 4 per cent support, was a route via the town’s principal sports pitches at Whitestone Park.
The four other options, later increased by two by SBC roads officials, were all further east, linking the A72 at Innerleithen Road to points either side of Kerfield Farm.
The police favoured the old railway route, but Tweeddale West councillor and SBC deputy leader Neil Calvert told this month’s executive meeting that the option would “only create another traffic jam at the other end of the town”. His fellow local councillor, Graham Garvie, said it was a “non-starter” because it was too close to the town centre and would run through allotments and common good land. Although not a member of the executive, a third Peebles councillor Catriona Bhatia, given leave to address the meeting, also poured scorn on the railway line route, claiming: “This does not pass the long-term test and is too close to the existing bridge within our conservation area. We are building for the future, not for the here and now, and I strongly believe the second crossing should be further to to east, though not far enough out to starve the High Street of business.”
The three local voices calling for the removal of the railway line and Whitestone Park options were overruled and the executive voted to include all eight options in the next stage of the consultants’ report, to be delivered early next year.
Councillor Michael Cook (Berwickshire) said: “It’s better these options are ruled out by practical assessment rather than by political decision.”
In a thinly veiled attack on his Peeblesshire colleagues, Councillor Gavin Logan (Tweeddale East), who did not attend the executive meeting, said: “There are many important issues in Peebles and it would be a pity if any of them is used as a political football in the run-up to next year’s council elections. It would be unwise to make judgements [on the second crossing route] before all the facts are known.”
Mrs Bhatia responded: “The bridge options have been the subject of a 100-page report from the consultants and, if we are serious about having a second crossing when the capital funds are available, the options should be narrowed down by now.
“Councillors have had more than enough information to dismiss these two totally unfeasible options. It has nothing to do with politics, just common sense and getting things done.”