More than £1m will be invested in the region’s rural roads this autumn, thanks to joint funding aimed at tackling the damage inflicted on them by timber lorries.
The Scottish Government’s strategic timber transport fund has pledged to spend just over £710,705 on Borders roads as part of a £6.7m investment in routes affected nationwide.
And with Scottish Borders Council also throwing £373.235 into the pot, that means three Borders roads are line for improvements totalling almost £1.1m.
The B6357 Jedburgh-to-Newcastleton road at Saughtree Grain and Sandholm Bridge; C34 Saughtree-to-Kielder road at Saughtree Cottages and Myredykes; and A701 Edinburgh-to-Moffat route between Tweedsmuir and Tweedhopefoot are all in line for works.
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson welcomed the news this week.
He said: “The B6357 road is a must for extra funding as it is used a lot by heavy timber lorries.
“When you think that the areas in and around Newcastleton are in line for yet more planting, it surely needs a massive spend on it to bring this road and the Newcastleton-to-Hawick road up to scratch.
“I would like to see resurfacing and more lay-bys for a start, but consultation with local communities is essential to see what is top priority.”
Improvements could include surface strengthening, widening corners, adding traffic-calming measures or providing passing places.
Newcastleton community councillor Greg Cuthbertson also welcomed the funding but warned that more must be done to prepare for the future.
“It’s pleasing to see some much-needed money being spent to improve the road network around Newcastleton as it is a pinch-point for timber coming from both Scotland and England,” he said.
“They’re using B and C roads not designed nor planned in any way to carry the amounts of heavy traffic they today face.
“It is difficult to drive them in a car, so the timber wagon drivers do well to keep them on the road, but they are just not fit for purpose.
“Do we really need to leave future generations the problems we suffer from on the road network from timber transport?
“We will always have to have timber transported by HGV, but surely we can look to the future and plan for a Borders Railway extension that has the capacity to carry timber by rail.”
Scottish Government rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing announced the funding this week, saying: “Scotland’s £1bn forestry industry is producing millions of tonnes of timber every year that will greatly benefit our rural economy. However, it is important that we do what we can to mitigate the impact on communities of increased volumes of timber coming to market.
“That is the key purpose of the Timber Transport Fund and it is encouraging to know that local authorities and forest owners continue to bring forward project ideas that will facilitate the sustainable transport of timber and ultimately benefit local communities and the environment.”
Councillor Gordon Edgar, the council’s executive member for roads and infrastructure, said: “I am delighted Scottish Borders Council has been able to secure over £700,000 from the Strategic Timber Transport Fund.
“Alongside our investment of £373,000, these rural roads will be greatly improved, which I hope will be welcomed by local communities.
“This work follows an additional £2.3million committed to roads and pavements this year from our own budgets.”
South of Scotland Labour MSP Colin Smyth warned far more investment is needed to properly minimise the effect of timber lorries on the area’s rural road network.
Mr Smyth said, “Any funding to improve roads in our area is welcome, but this won’t scratch the surface when it comes to the level of investment needed on roads being used to transport timber in our area.
“The level of timber being removed from our forests and transported across local roads is growing all the time and that is taking its toll on the condition of those roads.
“Unfortunately, the government have cut the overall budget for the Timber Transport Fund this year and that impacts most on those regions such as ours which have large forest areas where there is a lot of timber extraction.
“We need the government to do more to support communities who suffer as a result of the extra traffic caused by forestry and that means increasing, not cutting the fund, as there are roads across the region desperately in need of improvement”.