WITH forestry extraction in full swing in the south and west of the region, a senior Scottish Borders Council official has admitted that affected rural roads should “ideally” have been strengthened in advance, writes Andrew Keddie.
But strategic transportation planning manager Brian Young has stressed that the timber industry has a right to use these public routes.
He also revealed that his council had recently submitted a bid to the Scottish Government’s Strategic Timber Transport Fund (STTF) which, if successful, would see £700,000 spent on one of the worst hit roads: the eight-kilometre single track cul-de-sac linking Potburn Forest to the village of Ettrick.
The condition of that road and its inability to cope with timber traffic, set to increase fourfold over the next two decades, were highlighted at a public meeting held in Ettrick’s Boston Hall last Monday.
The meeting, hosted by Selkirkshire councillor Vicky Davidson, was called to address a range of issues surrounding the impact of forestry on the Ettrick Valley.
Fears about the loss of hill farms to forestry interests will, as reported last week, be conveyed to Scottish rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead, whose government is encouraging more tree planting to combat global warming, when he visits the region tomorrow.
The meeting heard that the Potburn road, which currently carries 5,000 timber lorryloads a year, serves several farms and holiday businesses, and was favoured by walkers and cyclists using the Southern Upland Way.
It is estimated that the harvesting of forests around Potburn will result in 400,000 lorryloads – or 20,000 a year – using the road over the next 20 years.
Last year, Ettrick and Yarrow Community Council sought assurances from SBC that plans were in place to deal with emergencies on the road which, it claimed, had seen many accidents and near misses involving timber lorries.
This week, Mr Young responded to the concerns raised at the Ettrick meeting.
“SBC recognises the impact of timber transport on infrastructure of local roads which were never designed to carry the volume or weight of traffic is is facing with current timber extraction programmes,” he told us. “Equally, we must appreciate that the industry has a right to use these public roads and often they represent the only route to market for the timber.
“In an ideal world we would have strengthened the routes ahead of the extraction programme, but with ever diminishing budgets this has not been remotely possible.
“Where we are at the moment is that we have successfully applied in recent years to the STTF for grant funding to enable the B709 to be strengthened and improved over a 16km length between Angecroft in the Borders and Garwald in Dumfries and Galloway. In total some £1.5million has spent on this work with the STTF providing 53 per cent of the funding and the two councils (SBC and Dumfries and Galloway) providing the balance aided by in-kind contributions from private sector and forestry industry sources.
“In addition, SBC has also been recently successful in applying to the STTF for additional funding – £50,000 from the STTF, matched by £50,000 from SBC – to address winter damage on roads used for timber extraction. This will be spent on five routes in the area identified as the most severely affected by a combination of forestry traffic and winter damage including the Potburn road and all work will be carried out by March 31.”
Other routes to benefit will be the A6088 Bochester Bridge to Carter Bar, the D29/3 Falnash road south of Hawick (serving Craik Forest), the D53/1 Fruid road near Tweedsmuir and the B6357 to the Dumfries and Galloway border.
“A more substantial bid for improvements to the Potburn route has also been submitted by the council and, if successful, this would see some £700,000 being spent in upgrading the full length of the road,” revealed Mr Young.
That submission was submitted by the February 28 deadline and, though acknowledged by the STTF, no date has been given for the announcement of successful bids. “As the project has to be completed in the coming financial year [2011/12], we would ideally hope to hear within the next three to four weeks,” said Mr Young.