THE boss of the world’s largest free-range egg producer has described the Borders railway as “a complete waste of money”.
John Campbell OBE, chairman of Peeblesshire-based Glenrath Farms, has also called for all 32 local authorities, including Scottish Borders Council, to be scrapped.
“I do not believe the Scottish Parliament is anything like busy enough,” said Mr Campbell, who was chairman of the former Tweeddale District Council for nine years and stood as a Conservative candidate for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale in the first Scottish parliamentary elections in 1999.
His controversial comments came last night at Neidpath Castle where Mr Campbell, in his role as Warden of Neidpath at this year’s Peebles Beltane Festival, gave the traditional annual address.
Recalling that it was 50 years since his family began farming in the Manor Valley, he said there had been many changes, not least a doubling of the population of Peeblesshire.
“Perhaps the most immediate challenge for our authorities must be the transport infrastructure in Peeblesshire,” said Mr Campbell. “Sadly, not long after we moved here, the railway was closed by Dr Beeching and we now watch and note with interest the proposed construction of a new rail link to the central Borders.
“I personally consider the whole concept is a complete waste of money which does nothing for Peeblesshire or, for that matter, Berwickshire.
“At the last AGM of the Peebles branch of the National Farmers Union, Alwyn Smith MEP conducted a random poll on the value of the new railway to agriculture in Peeblesshire.
“There was a unanimous rejection of the railway ... what we urgently need is to have our main roads infrastructure improved on the A703, including a bypass at Eddleston and a new roundabout at Leadburn. This would help the problem of single file traffic on our main artery at comparatively little expense.”
Turning to fellow Beltane guest Christine Grahame MSP, he congratulated her and the SNP on their “outstanding success” at the recent election. “This was clearly a reward for hard work and you deserve every success,” he told her.
“However, you certainly have a challenge ahead of you in balancing your budget: a task which is always a businessman’s first thought.
“I would like to give you a little advice on how to save a lot of money. I spent nearly 20 enjoyable years in local government [with Tweeddale District Council] and during that time we experienced many changes.
“The old town and county councils were marvellous institutions, run by unpaid councillors with no political affiliation and a genuine interest in improving the lot of their fellow citizens. Their primary aim at all times was to give the best possible service at the least possible cost.
“We then moved to regional and district councils which lasted for around 20 years before moving on to, in our case, Scottish Borders Council.
“In my opinion there is still one more reorganisation needed because we have too many tiers of government costing a lot of money.
“I do not believe the Scottish Government is anything like busy enough and honestly think there is an argument to scrap every council in Scotland, bringing all local functions under the one roof of the Scottish Parliament.
“After all, Strathclyde Region, perhaps the most successful local authority last century, represented half of Scotland’s population.
“Clearly there is duplication of staff between councils which, in any case, are fast losing their power. They have already lost their housing function and emergency services are set to become more remotely administered. But I hear a very good argument to bring education under the wing of the Scottish Government, while the same logic can be applied to social work which could be incorporated with health boards.
“I pose the question: if this all happens and I believe it will, what is the role of councils?... if these changes take place, they will have outlived their usefulness.”
Earlier Mr Campbell addressed the controversial issue of plans for another bridge in Peebles to span the Tweed.
“It is something the town certainly needs to help solve traffic congestion. Tesco complains that its shop is not big enough, so perhaps they could be persuaded to move across [the river] to Whitehaugh and contribute to a new bridge. This, in turn, might balance the population of both sides of the river – look what a new bridge has done for Kelso.”
Mr Campbell, who is vice-president of the Royal Highland Society, reflected on the sweeping changes in agriculture since he started farming in the Manor Valley.
“Fifty years ago, there were 50 local dairy farms, but now there are just three producing more milk than their predecessors put together. That is progress.
“There were over 200 full-time farmers back then, now there are less than 100 and the number is still going down. In the Manor Valley alone, there were 18 hill shepherds, but now all shepherding is carried out by family labour with the help of quad bikes.
“Fortunately the sheep industry, the strong arm of agriculture in Peeblesshire, is doing very well at present. We had a marvellous spring this year with one of the best lambings ever, with the result that we, the local farmers, have little to complain about. Isn’t that a change!
“Sadly, however, in some of our remote areas, like the Upper Tweed Valley, sheep and wool have given way to trees and heavy harvesting machinery which do no good to our roads and bridges.This, in turn, has contributed to the decline in our core industry of textiles. One has to ask: is this progress?”