Parker ‘confident’ SBC will raise railway levy cash

SCOTTISH Borders Council has collected less than 10 per cent of the £8.75million it needs as its contribution to the Borders railway project.

But SBC leader David Parker said he was “confident” the money, payment of which will be phased over 30 years, would be raised through a levy on new housebuilding.

Mr Parker was responding to a question from Conservative backbencher Councillor Gavin Logan who asked at last week’s full council meeting for “an indication of the maximum financial cost” that could be incurred by council tax payers in the Borders if there was a shortfall in so-called developer contributions – currently levied at around £1,700 per new house in post code areas that will benefit from or provide passengers for the railway – due to a prolonged downturn in the housing market.

Mr Parker recalled that in 2007, the council formally transferred the function of Borders Railway “authorised undertaker” to Transport Scotland.

In March, 2008, the then Scottish transport minister, Stewart Stevenson, confirmed the contributions of the three councils (SBC, Midlothian and City of Edinburgh) towards the cost of delivering the railway would be capped at £30million, at 2012 prices, paid over 30 years.

In June that year, the council received a report in private confirming the details of the transfer agreement.

“That agreement requires that SBC will pay £8.75million to Transport Scotland from developer contributions,” said Mr Parker.

He went on: “Payments will commence when the railway begins operation [expected to be 2014] and will continue over the following 30 years. To date, the council has collected £695,000 of developer contributions.

“Obviously there will be fluctuations in the level of developer contributions we receive over the 30-year period, based on the current state of the housing market and the number of properties that attract such payments.

“However, the agreement between this council and Transport Scotland allows for the re-profiling of the annual payments, based on housing market conditions and the contributions received during the period. I am confident that over a 30-year period, SBC will be able to pay the £8.75million.”

Later, Mr Parker was quizzed by Councillor Nicholas Watson, leader of the anti-rail Borders Party. who noted that in the recently published household survey of 6,000 residents, commissioned by SBC, a number of “other comments” were acknowledged in relation to the rail project.

Mr Watson wanted to know how many of these were positive, how many were negative and what message Mr Parker and his ruling administration took from them.

Mr Parker responded: “From our analysis, 49 respondents provided comments on the Borders railway and 40 of these were negative, seven were positive and two were neutral.

“The adminstration values all comments made. However, given that the total number of commerts represent a very small number of respondents to the survey [2,400] and an even smaller proportion of the Borders public, it is important these views are not given disproportionate weighting.”