Planning official urges councillors to approve controversial re-routing of A7

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DESPITE a welter of objections, councillors will be urged on Monday to approve plans for a major realignment of the A7 near Heriot to accommodate the Borders railway.

The recommendation to approve the Transport Scotland proposals comes from Scottish Borders Council’s planning officer Carlos Clarke.

Subject to a number of conditions, Mr Clarke is urging SBC’s planning committee to give the go-ahead for the project which will see the creation of two roundabouts, linking the major road at right angles, just north of Falahill Cottages.

That new link road will traverse the route of the rail bed and save Transport Scotland the expense of paying Transco in the region of £4million to re-route a high-speed gas main which would be required without the realignment.

The plans have been largely backed by the residents of Falahill which, if the bid is successful, will be accessed by a cul-de-sac – a section of the existing A7 – leading from the westernmost roundabout.

Indeed, seven letters of support have been received from the 11-household Falahill settlement.

But 33 letters of objection have also been submitted to SBC including two from the community councils of Heriot and Stow and Fountainhall. The thrust of the dissent is that the project will slow traffic on the busy arterial route and compromise road safety, while the lack of consultation by Transport Scotland outwith the residents of Falahill before the application was submitted in early November is also cited.

Aware of these concerns and with SBC requiring assurances over a range of technical issues, Transport Scotland’s project manager, Steven Milligan, wrote to Mr Clarke last week in support of the application.

He stressed that the proposal should not be compared with the current road arrangement, but rather with the road and rail alignment set out during the passage of the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Act, which received Royal Assent in 2006.

“This would involve the construction of a 180 metre-long skewed portal bridge structure below the A7 with signficant and unsightly extension walls as a consequence of the skew arrangement,” wrote Mr Milligan.

“The parliamentary proposal will also require the A7 to be raised vertically immediately to the north of Falahill Cottages with the road also having to be raised adjacent to the cottages to allow the A7 to cross over the railway.

“These works will involve significant disruption to A7 road traffic during the construction phase and a full diversion of the high pressure National Grid gas main.

“All of these issues are removed if this realignment proposal is accepted. Discussions with the key stakeholders at this location – the householders at Falahill – confirm the great majority are unhappy with what they perceive to be an obtrusive and unsightly option in comparison to the new proposals.”

He said Transport Scotland was “happy to comply” with a road safety audit, the preparation of which is a condition of Mr Clarke’s recommendation, which would cover the issues of traffic speed and roundabout lighting.

Reacting to charges of lack of consultation, Mr Milligan said: “We feel it important to note Transport Scotland has followed all the processes required to submit a formal planning application of this type.

“This includes detailed and ongoing consultation with those most directly affected by the proposals, the residents of Falahill. The effect of this consultation is demonstrated by the fact that some 80 per cent of Falahill residents are in favour of the proposals.

“There was early engagement with SBC’s roads department and National Grid Gas to ensure there was general agreement to our proposals, including the use of the roundabout arrangement.

“Further consultation included meeting with and advising Stow and Fountainhall and Heriot community councils on November 15 and 24, 2010, when Transport Scotland advised that the impact on the journey time was in the order of only 15-17 seconds.”

Commenting on behalf of Heriot Community Council this week, secretary Pat Linton told TheSouthern: “These proposed roundabouts threaten the safety of everyone who uses the A7 and we are not collateral damage in a cost-cutting exercise in the construction of this railway.

“There is support for an alternative solution from community councils, residents and road-user groups throughout the area.

“And there are alternatives to the parliamentary proposal that re-routes the A7, improves road safety in this area, and provides the road with safe overtaking places without adding to the convoying of traffic or introducing two conflict points [the roundabouts].

“Such alternatives would still provide all of the benefits to the Falahill residents without compromising safety, adding to journey times and adding a supplementary and ongoing burden to greenhouse gases that damage our environment.

“The question is why is no-one at Transport Scotland prepared to meet with the communities and stakeholders affected by its proposals or consider all of the stakeholders’ very real concerns and proposed alternatives.

“If indeed Transport Scotland had identified the stakeholders affected by this proposal, why then did they not consult with all of them in their ‘detailed and ongoing consultation’?”