Boris Johnson urged to back Borders Railway extension bid as part of £5bn new deal
Extending the Borders Railway ought to be part of UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s £5bn bid to get the country’s economy back on track after the coronavirus lockdown, according to campaigners.
A major new programme of fast-tracked building and infrastructure investment in response to the economic damage caused so far by Covid-19 was announced by Mr Johnson on Tuesday .
He pledged that his new deal, dubbed Project Speed, would deliver “fantastic new homes on brownfield sites and other areas, with better transport and other infrastructure”.
The Campaign for Borders Rail is now calling on the UK Government to include extending the Edinburgh-Tweedbank line into England, subject to Scottish Government approval, within that economic revival programme.
The campaign group believes reviving the former Waverley Route via Hawick to Carlisle would provides a ready-made project to stimulate local, regional and national growth.
Campaign chairman Simon Walton says that calls to extend the 30-mile track into Cumbria have the backing of community, commerce, administrations and industry at large throughout the UK.
He said: “If the UK Government is to introduce a programme of infrastructure investment, which is to underpin the recovery of the UK economy, then re-establishment of this cross-border rail link absolutely fits the bill.
“The campaign has consistently made the case that a new, fit-for-purpose Borders Railway will promote economic regeneration, social inclusion and environmental sustainability.
“Add to that the fact that a new Borders Railway will benefit not just the national network now, by providing much-needed capacity, but will also economically benefit many generations to come.
“This could be a legacy project that demonstrates a commitment to long-term recovery and faith in the future.”
The campaign has long called on governments on both sides of the England-Scotland border to co-operate on making an extended Borders Railway a reality, and both administrations are now carrying out feasibility studies costing £5m apiece, as part of their joint Borderlands growth deal, as a first step towards that goal.
Mr Johnson also pledged his support this week for plans to dual two sections of the A1 in Northumberland, prompting calls for similar work north of the border in Berwickshire.
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont said: “The review of transport links between our four nations is very welcome. The extension of the Borders Railway and upgrading the A1 must be at the heart of this.
“With the feasibility study for the Borders Railway extension already part of the Borderlands growth deal, I am hopeful that this project is well placed to be accelerated as part of the UK Government’s ambitious plans.
“It is clear that a railway linking Edinburgh and Carlisle through Hawick and Newcastleton would bring much-needed economic development and job opportunities.”
Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton added: “Dualling the A1 is extremely important for the economic recovery of the Borders.
“As well as improving safety, dualling the route would improve cross-border connections and cut journey times between Edinburgh and Newcastle.
“The A1 is an integral route for tourism and business.”
Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame agrees that an extension of the Borders Railway and dualling of the A1 would be welcome but is sceptical about Mr Johnson’s new deal being a potential means of delivering either.
“It would be great to see the railway extended, but there is no new money on offer, so there is no money for extending it under the touted new deal,” she said.
“It is a so-called recovery plan which amounts to just £5bn of money already announced.
“Even that recycled £5bn pales in comparison with the £80bn recovery programme proposed by our first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the huge investment being made by countries like Germany.
“If there is any money to come to Scotland, and it’s a big if, then Boris Johnson has said he will announce it next week.
“The prime minister was unable to outline a single penny in new money for Scotland, but we will hold him to the commitment he made that new funds for Scotland will be outlined next week.”
“While other countries like Germany are injecting huge amounts of money for an investment-led recovery, the Tories’ plans are completely devoid of ambition and do not come close to meeting the huge scale of the challenge we face from this unprecedented economic crisis.
“It’s vital that the UK Government now delivers an emergency budget with at least £80bn in new investment and urgently devolves the financial powers that the Scottish Parliament needs to secure a strong recovery for Scotland.
“Only the Tories in the Scottish Parliament opposed it having extra borrowing powers to help the economy after this pandemic, so their comments are brimful of hypocrisy.
“The Tories must not put Scotland’s recovery at risk by failing to deliver the powers and funds needed to respond to this unprecedented crisis.”
Ms Grahame added: “I couldn’t agree more about dualling the A1, but the Scottish Government has a fixed budget which it must balance every fiscal year, unlike the UK Government which can borrow and print money until the cows come home.
“Let’s see the colour of that money, and perhaps the Tories could begin by supporting all the other parties in the Scottish Parliament which have called for more borrowing powers rather than pretend that the rehashed announcement badged as a new deal is new money. It is not and none of it to date is destined for Scotland”