Timber truck halt plea as bridge closure plan sparks ‘great alarm’

A CALL for an 18-week halt to timber transportation in the Borthwick Valley is due to be made at a public meeting in Roberton tomorrow night.

It is just one suggested option to minimise the disruption to rural dwellers and businesses affected by the closure, set for August, of the B711 road which links the village with Hawick.

The strengthening of Martin’s Bridge – at the junction with the main A7 just south of the town – is required so that huge turbines can be conveyed to the Langhope Rig wind farm site, three miles west of Ashkirk.

The bridge is not only used by the bulk of timber traffic, but also by an estimated 100-a-day valley residents to access Hawick’s shops and services. During the closure, they will face a detour of at least 12 miles.

And, particularly in summer and autumn, the B711 carries livestock from the many farms in the valley, via the A7, to the main mart sites at Longtown and Newtown.

“The period from July to November is the peak season for lambs and calves being taken to market,” said Bonchester-based haulier Hugh Laing this week. “In those terms, the closure of the B711 could not happen at a worse time of the year. I await confirmation of the details before I can quantify just what extra costs are involved in our timber and livestock operations.”

In his last blog before seeking re-election today, Hawick and Hermitage councillor Ron Smith revealed the closure was scheduled to begin on August 7 and last for 18 weeks.

He conceded that the news had caused “great alarm in the Borthwick Water community”.

“Concern is being expressed that farmers will have problems sending stock to market, that tourists who might pass through the area at the height of the season will be lost, that locals will face constraints on shopping, employment and school journeys, and that timber hauliers will be diverted on to alternative routes where such wagons are not normally expected,” said Mr Smith.

He said the bridge works were being paid for by the developer of the Langhope Rig wind farm (Scottish & Southern Energy), but he added: “Scottish Borders Council is taking the opportunity to make its own improvements at the same time. I am stressing to [council] roads officers that everything must be done to minimise disruption by facilitating other bypasses and reducing the closure to the shortest possible time.”

James England of the Borders Timber Transport Group said it was important to stress the importance of his industry to the local economy.

“We do, already, have an occasionally uneasy relationship with local communities and how we get timber to its destination during the bridge closure presents us with problems, but these should not be insurmountable,” he told us.

“However, my personal view, which I expect will be echoed at this week’s meeting, is that the main impact on the valley will be on the communities themselves and there are serious questions about how, for instance, diversions will affect response times for emergency service vehicles.

“In those circumstances, it may be that the best solution would be to suspend timber harvesting and transport in the affected area for the period of the closure.”

Roberton resident Madge Anderson, who has helped organise tomorrow evening’s meeting in the Foreman Hall, told us: “The wind farm development was bitterly opposed locally, not least because we simply don’t have the roads infrastructure, already straining under the weight of timber lorries, to support its construction. We want everyone, businesses and individuals, who will be adversely affected by the closure of the B711 to come along and vent their feelings.”

She said such feedback would be passed on to Upper Teviotdale and Borthwickwater Community Council, which is due to meet SBC members and officials to discuss the closure and diversion details on May 11.

The 10-turbine Langhope Rig wind farm was rejected by SBC’s planning committee in 2007 after 370 local objections were lodged. However, in May the following year, that decision was overturned after an appeal to the Scottish Government.

TheSouthern was this week unable to obtain a comment from Scottish & Southern Energy on the road closure issue.