Borders Railway: Back to the Future RTPI Scottish Planner Magazine

Tim Ferguson lives and runs his planning practice, Ferguson Planning, from the Scottish Borders. Here he gives an insight into the forthcoming opening of the Borders Railway and the importance of it being the start, not the end to major investment in the region.

The Borders Railway represents the longest domestic railway to be built in the UK for over 100 years and has involved the laying of 30 miles of new track, the building of seven stations and the construction or upgrade of 137 bridges and viaducts along the way. No mean feat and one which the Scottish Government and all those involved should be congratulated.

“The railway will begin to alter people’s opinions when looking at the region in terms of investment.”

One of the key reasons for moving our young family from Edinburgh to the Scottish Borders was foreseeing the many benefits the new railway would bring. This life changing decision was soon followed by another in deciding to stay local when setting up our planning practice in 2012. Again the key driver being the railway and ease of access to Edinburgh city centre for meetings.

The reopening of the old Waverley line will deliver fast, efficient travel between the Scottish Capital and the Borders with the desire or hope that it wilt also deliver major economic and social development opportunities and the revitalisation of towns along the way.

It may seem obvious that appropriate infrastructure and communications planning should be at the forefront of every
good strategy but all too often, with the multifaceted industry we work in, it gets left behind, with various parties looking after their own interests. This rarely leads to the greater good or a prosperous long term future for all.

The Borders Railway is an exception to this worrying trend. The spotlight will very much be on this ambitious infrastructure project come the opening on 6th September. The golden ticket will not only apply to the lucky few
chosen to take the maiden voyage but also to the opportunity that now faces planning and development within the Scottish Borders.

The new transport interchange currently being unwrapped in the centre of Galashiels is a major piece of construction soon to be completed and hopefully will provide the catalyst to the regeneration of the town centre. A Central Borders Business Park and a new complex to house ‘The Great Tapestry of Scotland’ at Tweedbank are also in the
pipeline.

These proposals do however face a number of delivery issues that will require strong leadership. The railway is of course as much benefit to the other authorities of Edinburgh and Midlothian but in my opinion the Scottish Borders stands to gain or lose the most. It will begin to alter many people’s opinions when looking at the region in terms of investment. All too often when promoting sites in the past the same old response has come back: lovely place but it’s just that bit too far from Edinburgh with no railway connections.

Investment in the Borders has primarily been based on local enterprise. The railway will now mean that the region has the core transport artery to further support that local enterprise and to attract leading national and global
companies. With an extension to Carlisle already being mooted the potential is endless. A clear economic and planning action plan, beyond the Local Development Plan, is now needed. Companies need a pro-active and simple planning system from which to engage. Clarity and certainty on outcomes are essential.

Implementing the following five key actions will go a long way in that process:

• Establishment of a central investment and marketing body to provide focus and drive;
• Establishment of a Task Force to unblock major stalled development/infrastructure projects;
• Production of an infrastructure and communications strategy focused on strong growth ;
• Production of a wider transport strategy to enhance accessibility to the railway;
• Meaningful public and private sector partnerships in development delivery.

The usual political football is never too far from large transport or infrastructure projects of this nature and why lessons from the past closure must be learned. The long term viability of the railway can only be achieved via having enough end users. Given the Borders relatively low population it is vital that a well thought out and deliverable plan is in place and that will result in significant housing growth along the route as well as one
that ensures it attracts a greater number of businesses and visitors to this picturesque part of Scotland.


One thought on “Borders Railway: Back to the Future RTPI Scottish Planner Magazine

  1. Great to speak to you today Tim. Just confirm my attendance at the Transport Hub presentation in Galashiels and to request a email address to correspond with re the catering of this event.

    Kind Regards

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