Campaign AGM sparks debate and new hope for extension
The Campaign for Borders Rail AGM saw lively debate during a “question time” afternoon session, featuring a panel including political rivals John Lamont MP and Paul Wheelhouse MSP.
In front of an audience of around two hundred members and guests at Hawick High School (Saturday, 20 October 2018), the Westminster MP and the Holyrood MSP initially argued over their respective track records on support of the Campaign’s cause to extend the Borders Railway through Hawick to Carlisle. However, in the face of intense questioning from the audience, they did reach consensus on the benefits that rail infrastructure would bring to the community.
Simon Walton, the CBR chairman, who hosted the ‘question time’ styled public event, said it was a real endorsement of the Campaign’s hard work over the past twelve months. “That politicians demonstrated they are united behind the project, proves how far we’ve come,” he said. “We invited panelists from all facets of political and civic life to join us at our nineteenth annual general meeting, and they were able to demonstrate that whatever ideological differences they may have, they were in no conflict over the benefits of being part of the national rail network.”
The meeting also heard that the Scottish Government had decided to take forward two rail-based proposals from the recent Borders Transport Corridors Study (the so-called Jacobs Report) – identifying Tweedbank to Carlisle as an option for examination, and also, to look in more detail at a possible link to the East Coast Main Line.
“The Campaign remains committed to re-establishment of the former ‘Waverley Route’ as the best and most achievable outcome,” said Simon Walton. “The bottom line is that a new rail service through Hawick and the Scottish Borders will go a long way towards solving many of the economic and social challenges faced by the region. It will be the most tangible and achievable way to kick-start that regeneration process, and bring about the best return on investment for the benefit of the widest possible cross-section of the community.”
Panelist and academic Brian Eaton, who has extensive experience of the value of rail development around the world, cited other examples of sparsely populated areas generating larger than expected traffic flows. His example par excellence was the New Zealand station of National Park, which has virtually no resident population, yet is among the busiest places on the North Island, simply due to the accessibility afforded by rail transport.
Shona Haslam, leader of Scottish Borders Council, emphasised the collateral benefits to communities around the Borders, just by having closer proximity to rail services. From the panel on stage, she listened to host Simon Walton who noted initiatives like Kelso Racecourse’s “track to track” shuttle which brings rail-travelling racegoers direct to the venue. “It’s ideas like this that show how rail demonstrably helps nurture and grow business in the Borders,” added Simon Walton.
Most closely questioned panelists were Richard Morris, the former chair of the Friends of the Carlisle and Settle Line, who recounted how that line, regarded as a sister business case for the ambitions of the Campaign for Borders Rail, had helped support enterprise in the rural economy, and greatly raise the profile and attraction of the region to a worldwide market. However, the most interest was reserved for John Stevenson, the Carlisle MP, and ‘champion’ of the Borderlands Growth Initiative, who reiterated his support for funding of a full feasibility study, as the very next stop on the line to reinstating the badly needed link through the Borders to Carlisle.
Concluding, Simon Walton said: “Having the stated support of the new cross-border agency is a vital step forward. The Campaign and its members must take credit for pushing that agenda forward. John Stevenson did all but pull out his agency’s cheque book, and Paul Wheelhouse reminded us that, while the current agenda puts extension several years down the road, it’s up to the Campaign to be ready to present the case for the Borders Railway extension in the eventually of circumstances changing. Our policy of informed and rational advocacy has served us well thus far, and will serve the Borders well in the future. We’re closer now than ever to seeing everyone’s ambition achieved.”
GUIDE IMAGE: L-R Brian Eaton; Shona Haslam; John Lamont; Paul Wheelhouse; John Stevenson; Richard Morris
For more information contact Simon Walton below.
Simon Walton, chairman