The forthcoming creation of an enterprise agency for southern Scotland is set to trigger revived calls for the construction of an east-to-west road through the Borders.
Priorities being flagged up to the Scottish Government ahead of the arrival of the agency in 2020 include improving transport links across the region and upgrading minor routes to cope with planned expansion of the forestry industry here.
Calls for the creation of an east-west highway linking Berwick and the M74 motorway from Glasgow to South Lanarkshire have died down since first being made in the 1960s, but they now look set to be given fresh impetus.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise says in its submission to ministers about the new agency: “Despite the region being relatively well served by strategic transportation links, there remain significant challenges, particularly east-west links, which are a barrier to regional cohesion and growth.”
Plans for a high-speed east-west route were drawn up by surveyors in 1969, but little progress has been made on them since, though the former Berwickshire County Council did give them its backing in 1972, and the year after a report to its planning department concluded: “Without improvement to this part of the infrastructure, Berwickshire and the whole region will continue to be in difficulties in providing work opportunities for their existing population and population decline will continue unabated.
“There is no doubt that a communications system compatible with an industrialised society is a key factor if the Borders region is to play an important part in the economic growth of Scotland.”
The Scottish Government’s commitment to expanding the country’s timber industry might prove to be the spur that finally gets plans for an east-west highway back on track and secures more investment in our road network, however.
Roland Stiven, projects officer for the Timber Transport Forum, has advanced a case for significant investment in our B and C-class roads to accommodate lorries transporting wood further afield.
In a submission to ministers ahead of the arrival of the agency, Mr Stiven explains that forestry accounts for 18% of land cover in the Borders and timber production is forecast to rise by half to 1.5m cubic metres a year over the next decade.
In Dumfries and Galloway, its 26% forest cover will increase production from 1.5m cubic metres to two million over the same period, he adds.
He writes: “Most roads are either single-tracked with passing places or very narrow twin-tracked roads with poor geometry and limited strength, with limited capacity for the modern 44-tonne lorries that are the industry standard.
“Two and a half million tonnes per year is equivalent to 100,000 lorry loads, so 300 to 400 lorry loads each day.
“We would like to see south Scotland use this demand for improved infrastructure to focus investment in rural road infrastructure, addressing the needs of the timber sector and providing benefits for the wider rural economy and ensure the modern forestry and timber processing sector can continue to develop and expand, with more forests, more investment in modern processing, skilled labour and added value to timber products, creating more employment and more economic activity.
“Forestry and timber can provide a spearhead for wider rural economic activity and productive land use.”
Mr Stiven adds that the Borders’ road and rail infrastructure is far from good.
It has good north-south links for those passing through but internal connectivity and east-west links are very poor, he says.