Hopes of extending the Borders Railway to Hawick have suffered a blow, councillors claim

Fears are growing of a 'significant delay' to any extension of the Borders Railway after the publication of the Scottish Government's 20-year transport strategy.

By Paul Kelly
Saturday, 29th January 2022, 12:08 pm
Watson McAteer. (Photo: Bill McBurnie)
Watson McAteer. (Photo: Bill McBurnie)

Fears are growing of a 'significant delay' to any extension of the Borders Railway after the publication of the Scottish Government' s 20-year transport strategy.

When members of Scottish Borders Council met on Thursday, January 27, they discussed two vital transport reports which will impact the region for years to come.

They were asked to respond to a regional transport policy proposed by SEstran - the South-East of Scotland Regional Transport Partnership.

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Members found that the report 'heavily skewed' towards urban challenges, with not enough recognition of the needs in rural regions.

Secondly, they offered views on Strategic Projects Review 2 from the Scottish Government, which some members concluded failed to give the necessary commitment for an extension of the Borders Railway to Hawick, Newcastleton and on to Carlisle.

Commenting on the Government's new strategy, Mark Curry, the council's director of infrastructure and environment, told members: "Our key observation is that while there is a commitment to delivering the feasibility study for the Borders Railway extension the project has been positioned as a regional rather than a national priority. This could cause significant delay to any extension."

Councillor Mark Rowley, the leader of Scottish Borders Council, also expressed concern with the proposed SEstran policy, especially as almost all of the Borders is deemed at the 'highest deprivation' level in terms of workforce mobility.

He said: "That is something that simply has to change and is utterly unacceptable.

"The basis of the officer's argument is that the plan that was offered to us offers urban solutions and doesn't recognise well enough the rural issues we have in this part of the world in terms of connection to transport."

Mr Rowley expressed his excitement at the development of Reston railway station, set to open this year, adding: "It's an utterly impressive piece of infrastructure which this council has supported financially. It makes Berwickshire an hour away from Newcastle and it makes parts of Berwickshire 37 minutes away from Princes Street in Edinburgh. The opportunities that will come from that are immense."

Councillor Watson McAteer labelled the government's 20-year transport strategy a "perfect disgrace", adding: "In terms of our hopes and optimism for the future they have been severely dashed.

"We are forgotten as a rural community. This railway, in terms of an extension, is vital for us in the Borders and for the Scottish Government transport review to completely ignore it, other than to suggest that a feasibility study is taking place, is in my mind a disgrace and Borders people should not put up with it."

Councillor Jim Fullarton, a council representative on the SEstran board, added: "It is fair to say there was a lot of controversy about responding to the report. I think one of the big challenges is the figure of reducing car usage by 20 per cent. In a city context there is a lot to argue for that but when you come to a rural context it is a complete and utter disaster.

"The rural buses are under a colossal challenge, with a lack of passengers to be economic and that has to be recognised. The people are very vulnerable in terms of transport linkage and there has to be a recognition from government that there has to be funding to address that."