Rethinking the Scottish Government’s funding formula for maintenance of the region’s roads could be one of the first tasks for the soon-to-be-created south of Scotland enterprise agency, councillors have been told.
That suggestion was made at Tuesday’s meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s executive committee at Hawick Town Hall as representatives from the south of Scotland economic partnership, an interim body set up to help found the enterprise agency, fielded questions from councillors.
Partnership chairman Russel Griggs outlined the consultation process leading up to the launch of the agency, citing infrastructure and transport solutions for the Borders as being among the issues it could deal with.
Hawick and Hermitage councillor David Paterson asked him: “You mentioned earlier infrastructure and roads. There are big plans for forestry increasing in the Borders area and the area where I represent, including Newcastleton and further afield.
“The problem it’s going to cause when you extract that timber is that the road infrastructure is falling to pieces at the moment.
“My fear, for the people I represent, is that the road infrastructure is going to get even worse.
“Will there be greater spending on roads or even possibly the railway?”
Rob Dickson, the council’s representative on the partnership, answered: “I think the council’s position, certainly in recent years, as far as I’m aware, has been that the forest industry pays its road taxes the same as everybody else does and it’s perfectly entitled to use the routes in the same way that every other business does. It’s very hard to argue against that.
“However, if you think about our economy being different and the scale of the operation being undertaken, it seems counterintuitive to just accept that the volume of traffic put on the roads by the forestry industry can just be ignored if it pays its road tax.
“If our economy is different, in that our use of the infrastructure is different, then perhaps we need a different response than the way it’s maintained in the current funding formula.
“We need to look at how we support these vital industries in our area but ensure the price we pay is not destroying, not to use that word too heavily, the roads that we have.
“It does seem to me that the enterprise agency is a construct by which we can have a different discussion, and work in a different way, to recognise the impact these important sectors can have on our environment and, in this case, the roads.”
The Scottish Government is already consulting on a brief for the new agency, and feedback generated by upcoming meetings will help determine it.