THE granting to Scottish Borders Council (SBC) of a further five years to obtain rights for land required to access the Borders rail route will neither derail nor delay the £300million project.
That is view of Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government body charged to deliver the line, which insisted this week: “We remain committed to delivering an operational railway for communities in Midlothian and the Scottish Borders by 2014.”
The agency was responding to a national newspaper story, headed “Fresh trouble for delayed Borders rail link”, which stated the project was facing “further delays” because the five-year deadline for the council to secure access rights had been missed.
The article claimed SBC had accordingly been forced to ask Scottish ministers for more time – until 2016 – to obtain the access rights needed to build the railway.
Under the Waverley Railway Scotland Act 2006, SBC is responsible for assembling the required land within five years of the legislation receiving Royal Assent.
That deadline will expire on July 24 this year, three months before Transport Scotland is due to announce the name of the successful consortium which will construct the line.
The competing organisations are BAM UK, which built the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine rail link, and IMCD, comprising building giant McAlpine and a Spanish infrastructure firm.
The winning company will be consulted over exactly what land is required for access so that the line can be constructed and then maintained.
“All the land required to construct the Borders railway project has been acquired,” said a spokeswoman for Transport Scotland this week.
“As SBC is responsible for the powers relating to land assembly, it has applied for an extension to time available to acquire access rights to a remaining tranche of land required to facilitate access points for construction and maintenance of the railway.
“The powers to acquire land are exercised during a period of five years from [the legislation receiving] Royal Assent with the option to extend by a further five years.
“Applying for such an extension enables the successful contractor to be consulted to ensure it has appropriate access for construction and maintenance.”
A spokesman for the council told us: “The option to extend the period for land assembly is explicit in the act and it makes perfect sense to take advantage of this, especially as further acquisitions may be required as a result of discussions with the successful contractor.
“These talks obviously cannot commence until the bidder has been identified, so it is nonsense to suggest this time extension will delay the project.”
Meanwhile Transport Scotland has confirmed it is pressing ahead with its planning application to realign the A7 at Falahill north of Heriot, creating two new roundabouts and a bridge over the rail track. The planning committee of SBC will consider the bid on February 14.
Responding to claims by Heriot Community Council, one of 23 objectors to the application, that it was not consulted before November, when it was submitted, a Tranport Scotland spokesperson said: “While there is no statutory requirement for Transport Scotland to follow the pre-application procedures set out in regulations, we view public consultation as a key part of the delivery of our project and have followed all the processes required to submit a formal application of this type.
“It is also appropriate at this stage that we await the outcome of the planning application.”