Bus giant at odds with council over bus station sale

The new Galashiels Transport Interchange will open in July
The new Galashiels Transport Interchange will open in July

The region’s largest bus operator is “continuing to review” the impact on its business of a £1.75 departure charge which will be levied by Scottish Borders Council on every journey out of the new Galashiels Transport Interchange.

The commercial viability of the £5.2m three-storey facility, which is due to open next month and is the largest municipal building project ever undertaken by the council, will depend to a large degree on First Borders and other bus companies agreeing to pay that levy.

An SBC spokesperson confirmed that the £1.75 charge had been agreed at a private meeting of councillors last week, adding: “The executive committee will monitor the performance of the operational model [of the interchange] on an ongoing basis.”

It is understood that, in order to keep the charge to an affordable level, the council, which is contributing £3.4m to the capital project and will operate the facility for 21 hours a day, will subsidise each bus departure to the tune of over 90p.

“We are continuing to review the impact of any departure charge on our business,” said a spokesperson for First Borders this week.

With the opening of the Borders Railway, also due to be served by the interchange, just two months away, it has also emerged the council is still in dispute with First Borders over the acquisition of the former Galashiels bus station at Stirling Street which is owned by the company.

The approved plans for the interchange include the demolition of that building to make way for extra car parking and an attractive landscaped “avenue” to encourage rail and bus visitors into the town centre.

After last week’s meeting, the council spokesperson said: “Councillors noted in a separate private report that compulsory purchase negotiations with a private company regarding the Galashiels Transport Interchange are continuing.”

That is a reference to the council’s attempts to acquire the old bus station which go back at least three years with failure to agree a price believed to be behind the impasse.

The First Borders spokesperson told us: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment while negotiations are continuing.”

Meanwhile, details of what companies and organisations, if any, will occupy the interchange building have still to be made public amid speculation that leasing costs, coupled with service charges, may be prohibitive.