PRESSURE is mounting on Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee to reject controversial proposals to realign the A7 near Heriot and the agreed route of the £300million Borders railway.
The work will involve the creation of two raised roundabouts on the former trunk road just north of Falahill Cottages. The new road, running east to west at right angles between the roundabouts, will span the rail track, while the existing route to Falahill will become a cul-de-sac.
The community councils of Heriot and Stow and Fountainhall have objected strongly to the planning application from Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government body organising procurement for the railway’s construction. A private consortium is due to be appointed to do the work at the end of next year.
The deadline for public responses to the planning bid is December 17, but, with 12 objections already received, it is certain to test the disinterest of the planning committee as it was SBC who steered the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Act on to the statute book.
Some objectors claim the realignment deviates so far from the route explicit in the act that it is illegal. Lesley Inglis, of 4 Falahill Cottages, claimed: “This application is not just a few tweaks to the original plan. It is a complete new variation of the road and rail alignment.”
Councillor Sandy Aitchison (Borders Party), this week joined the chorus of disapproval.
“There is incredulity at the proposal to construct the two roundabouts,” he said. “This appears to have become necessary because somebody seems to have missed the fact the main gas pipeline runs across the valley and this would require expensive re-routing.
“Obviously this will impact on the contractors’ bidding submissions and have a detrimental effect on the price.
“The snow has demonstrated just how difficult the A7 is to negotiate. To put two roundabouts at one of its highest points in simply daft.
“The reason given for not having a station at Heriot was that it would increase the rail journey time from Tweedbank to Edinburgh, but obviously Transport Scotland is quite happy to increase the travel time for A7 users. I find this hypocritical.”
One road user and objector, Sir Michael Strang Steel wrote: “As a regular user of the A7. I am appalled at the proposals… This will cause huge frustrations as drivers back up behind slow-moving lorries on the approach to the roundabouts. The overtaking lanes are far too short and this will lead to reckless overtaking at a notorious accident black spot just north of the Nettlingflat turn-off.
“Worryingly, it appears Transport Scotland has ignored the views and advice from locals and did not even bother to consult Heriot Community Council.”
But in a submission to SBC, Steve Milligan, Transport Scotland’s project director for the Borders railway, claimed the plans had the majority support of Falahill residents.
He acknowledged that the work will “remove the requirement to relocate a major high pressure gas main and the disruption these significant diversionary works would have on A7 users”.
He said the proposal was a safer option for users of the A7 with the roundabouts imposing a traffic speed reduction in an area where there has been a number of reported vehicle accidents.
“The proposed development is a significant improvement on the rail and road corridor put forward at the time of the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Act 2006,” added Mr Milligan.
In a personal submission, Dr Gavin Whittaker, chairman of Heriot Community Council, claimed residents of Heriot and Fountainhall would be badly affected by a road realignment that would break up a free-flowing section of the A7.
“We should at least be entitled to expect from both Transport Scotland and rail supporters some understanding of the issue for the people whose lives they so willingly blight with their projects,” said Dr Whittaker.
“I’m afraid the approach taken with Transport Scotland’s planning application perfectly illustrates the cynical contempt that has been shown to our community.”
Jenny Mushlin, secretary of Stow and Fountainhall Community Council, has told the planners the works will slow traffic and cause frustration.
“From the presentations made by the two Transport Scotland offices who attended a meeting in Stow, it is clear no considersation has been given to road users, that local knowledge has not been sought and that cost has been favoured over safety.”