Hopes of extending the Borders Railway have been raised with the announcement of major new investment into the region.
The Borders is set to benefit from a £345m joint investment from the UK and Scottish Governments through the Borderlands Growth Deal.
A partnership established to unlock economic growth across the South of Scotland and North of England, the deal is the first to involve partners either side of the border.
And although it is yet to be decided how the money will be spent, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont says it must fund a full feasibility study into extending the railway line from Tweedbank to Hawick, Newcastleton and Carlisle.
Investment into improving broadband is also called for.
In his spring statement announced today, Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged £260m over the next 10 years to the deal, which includes Scottish Borders Council, Dumfries & Galloway Council, Carlisle City Council, Northumberland County Council and Cumbria County Council.
That announcement came just two hours after Scotland’s Infrastructure Secretary Michael Matheson revealed that the Scottish Government would invest up to £85 million over ten years to drive growth across the region.
The money will fund economic development activity across a range of themes, including digital connectivity, tourism, regeneration and skills, with its specific use due to be agreed in the coming months.
Tweeddale MP and Scottish Secretary David Mundell described the funding boost as “transformational” Borderland communities.
He said: “It will bring real benefits to constituents and do much to bring new jobs and opportunities in the context of a tough couple of years for the local economy.
“This is an example of both Scotland’s governments working together for local people and recognises the importance of cross-border relationships.
“It is an ambitious approach to cross-border working between the governments, local authorities and partners and I’m confident that together we can create jobs and opportunity and bring investment.”
Welcoming the funding, Mr Lamont added: “I have made it clear to the chancellor that Borderlands needs to push ahead the campaign to extend the Borders Railway. The next step in this process is a full feasibility study into bringing the line to Hawick, Newcastleton and Carlisle.
“It also needs to tackle the issue of poor broadband. With one in five homes in the Borders still unable to get access to superfast broadband, this investment is needed soon.”
Announcing the Scottish Government’s £85m commitment to the partnership at the Findra clothing design hub in Innerleithen this morning, Michael Matheson said: “There’s absolutely no doubt that there are some very specific challenges within the south of Scotland. There’s also much potential and there’s a range of things we need to do in order to achieve that.
“Alongside the establishment of a new enterprise agency for the south of Scotland, and the activity being taken forward by the South of Scotland economic partnership, this investment will help to drive inclusive growth that delivers significant, lasting economic benefits for individuals, businesses and communities right across the region.”
When asked what exactly the money would be spent on, Mr Matheson said that heads of terms would be set this year.
“I know there are calls for extending the Borders railway, improving digital connectivity and developing skills,” he said.
“There is no lack of ambition on my part to make sure we get what we need and the heads of terms should be decided within the coming months. I’m meeting with the partners this afternoon to discuss where we are.”