Business and tourism minister Fergus Ewing visited the Borders yesterday, and gave the clearest indication yet that extending the soon-to-open Borders Railway beyond Tweedbank is not being ruled out.
With the opening of the Borders Railway only weeks away, Mr Ewing met with the Borders Blueprint Working Group, established last year by the former First Minster Alex Salmond to realise the full economic benefits of the new Borders Railway, transform tourism opportunities and open up communities in South-East Scotland as new places to live, work, visit, learn, play and grow.
Mr Ewing said: “Today has also been a good opportunity to meet with the Borders Blueprint Working Group and hear about the progress that is being made as we prepare for the opening of the railway.
“The Scottish Government is delivering a railway that strengthens communities in Midlothian and the central Scottish Borders, spreads wealth and jobs to the regions and attracts even more tourists to this beautiful part of Scotland. By working together we can ensure we maximise the benefits the railway will bring to the area.”
And he said he fully expected the interest in the service will be “enormous”, and added: “I think the more effective and the more successful the Borders Railway is when it reopens, the stronger the case will be to extend it further in future.”
Calum Kerr, the MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, has warmly welcomed the comments by Fergus Ewing MSP, the Scottish Government Minister for Business Energy and Tourism, on the new Borders Railway.
Mr Kerr said: “I am hugely encouraged that the minister believes there may well be a strong case for extending the line beyond its current terminus at Tweedbank, and that it is something he certainly isn’t ruling out.
“I agree with his view that there is likely to be enormous interest in the new railway and that it presents a fantastic opportunity to create wealth and jobs.
“Mr Ewing is right – we need to make the most of this brilliant new asset, and I’ll be doing everything I can not just to encourage visitors and tourists to use it, but also to persuade potential investors that it’s another great reason to bring businesses here.
“The news that the Scottish Government is open to extending the line further really is fantastic news. I’ve long believed that fully replacing the original Waverley route lost in the 1960s and taking it on to Hawick and Carlisle will further exploit its potential.
“That would allow us to make the most of a direct physical link with the North of England which would provide unparalleled additional opportunities for economic growth, additional tourism and enhanced social links on both sides of the border.”
Jim Hume, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for South Scotland, repeated his earlier calls that the time is now for the Scottish Government to commit to a feasibility study into extending the Borders rail link.
The MSP wants to see a commitment to have the line extended to Hawick, and eventually joining the Borders to Carlisle.
Mr Hume said: “Almost every week we’re seeing experts, agencies and even government ministers shouting about the benefits the line to Tweedbank will bring to communities in the Borders.
“There is no doubt that an extension on to Hawick and beyond makes good socio-economic sense.
“But the Scottish Government needs to ditch its ‘wait and see’ policy for a more proactive approach by committing to a feasibility study.”
Mr Ewing also visited Born in Borders, an award winning provenance-based visitor centre between Jedburgh and Hawick that opened in June last year and has recently opened a brewery on site.
Mr Ewing said: “Born in the Borders is a fantastic centre that showcases the best of what the Borders has to offer. It’s beautiful setting on the banks of the river Teviot it brings together the best of everything that is grown, spun, produced, cooked and created in the area. By winning the Scottish Sourcing Award at the 2015 Scottish Food and Drink Excellence Awards this demonstrates their commitment to the local area.
“With 2015 being the Year of Food and Drink it is a tremendous opportunity to inspire the people of the Scotland and our many visitors to celebrate our outstanding natural larder and with over 1000 people employed in food and drink in the Borders this a central part of this year’s celebrations.
John Henderson, owner of Born in the Borders, said: “There is huge potential in this region, especially for food and drink. It was great to show the minister around our facilities. There is a real buzz in the Borders at the moment with the arrival of the railway and visits like this help to build on that momentum.”