SCOTTISH Borders Council will not ask Network Rail to consider coming up with an “alternative solution” to a controversial new road layout just north of Heriot.
That decision was described as “short-sighted and frankly ridiculous” by Councillor Sandy Aitchison (Borders Party) in whose ward – Galashiels and District – the A7 realignment, involving the creation of two large, illuminated roundabouts running east to west via a new bridge near Falahill, is due to take place.
His request that an approach should be made to the company who will operate the Borders railway was met with a curt “no” by council leader David Parker at last week’s SBC meeting, with the latter going on to accuse Mr Aitchison of electioneering by raising the matter.
It was a claim strenuously denied by Mr Aitchison.
“I am not naive enough to think that the railway is not going to happen and I accept that a road realignment is required to ensure the rail route does not interfere with a high-speed gas link owned by the National Grid,” Mr Aitchison told TheSouthern. “To reroute that link would cost over £4million.
“What irks me and many people who use the A7 regularly and who are in favour of the railway is that the case for the creation of two roundabouts, which will slow journey times and be a safety hazard, has never been made.
“We can only assume, although comparative costs have never been provided, that this is the cheapest option. It is certainly the nastiest.”
Mr Aitchison said he was prompted to make his request after learning that a cottage which was the only residential property, due to be served by the first of the two large roundabouts, was now empty, having been the subject of a compulsory purchase order (CPO) by Transport Scotland.
“This building, known locally as the Shunters Cottage, was occupied when SBC’s planning committee agreed, by a single vote, to give the road realignment planning permission a year ago. Members were assured the roundabout was required to offer the occupants safe access onto the A7 – but that requirement no longer exists.
“So it is perfectly reasonable to ask if Network Rail, which must have a wealth of expertise with regard to roads infrastructure in connection with their railways, could revisit the proposal which Mr Parker and his cronies seem hellbent on pushing through, regardless of the inconvenience to their constituents.
“The A7 will still be used by more people per day than the railway and it’s surely reasonable to ask that, if the expertise exists and if the first roundabout will offer access to no-one, the design is revisited.
“The flat refusal to my request is both short-sighted and frankly ridiculous. If other options, such as a flyover which would offer easy access to Falahill residents, are too expensive in the context of a multi-million project, then we should be told.”
Meanwhile, Mr Aitchison’s Borders Party colleague Nicholas Watson has this week, at the behest of officials at Transport Scotland, restated his formal objection to a CPO, brought by SBC, to acquire land owned by the Kibble family at Falahill Farm. The National Grid also lodged an objection.
Councillor Watson believes that, without the land, the road realignment proposals would have to be changed.
“I lodged my original objection in December and have been given the chance to respond to points made in favour of the CPO by Brodies, the solicitors acting on behalf of the council,” explained Mr Watson.
“I remain utterly convinced that the advantages of this idiotic scheme would be clearly outweighed by the disadvantages.”
He cites the blot on the landscape of urban illumination in a rural setting and the potential for traffic to speed up when leaving the roundabouts in both directions.
He claims also that, based on an extrapolation of data collected in a single day last August, when 5,590 vehicles passed Falahill in both directions, increased journey times would cost motorists £3.5million in potential lost wages over the 60-year period on which the business case for the railway is based.
And he says that, while a long flyover bridge would be a substantial structure, it would be considerably less damaging than the double roundabout system, with no street lights or signage required.
A Transport Scotland spokesman said yesterday: “Negotiations are understood to be taking place on the National Grid objection to the CPO. In accordance with legislation, there will be a hearing or public inquiry over any maintained statutory objections. We are not yet in a position to say when any inquiries would be held or decisions reached.”