Slow line to regeneration
One year on, Katie Gibson assesses the economic impact of the new Borders Railway.
The re-opening of the Borders Railway in September 2015 was heralded as opening up the area to bring tourists in from the capital and to help locals commute to and from their Edinburgh jobs.
The new 35-mile service, which connects Edinburgh to Tweedbank, was part of the 98-mile Waverly line from Edinburgh to Carlisle which was axed in 1969. The £350m project exceeded its forecast goal of 650,000 passengers in year one by 22% just six months after opening. So the new line seems to have been a success. But is it achieving its economic regeneration goals for the towns along the route?
There's no doubt the route has given many people a new mode of transport in a rural area of Scotland and that is to be celebrated. However, the majority of extra passengers come from the furthest stops of Galashiels and Tweedbank, which only saves 13 minutes travelling time to Edinburgh over driving.
It also seems that many are using the Borders Railway to spend their money on shopping trips and days out in the capital, taking much-needed custom away from already failing High Streets. This is especially noticeable in Galashiels, where currently 25% of retail units on Channel Street are vacant.
An increase in new-build homes is another major economic regeneration goal for the railway. Planning departments have encouraged this in their local plans, but national housebuilders have not yet been persuaded to acquire land at the end of the line around Galashiels and Tweedbank. This is due to a lack of demand for new housing in the area. The housebuilders point out that other satellite towns to Edinburgh, such as Peebles, have slow sales and lower house values than more valuable areas closer to the capital.
Greater activity is being seen in the towns and villages at the northern end of the line, such as Newtongrange and Gorebridge, but we anticipate it will take time for housebuilders to gain enough confidence to buy land for multi-unit development at the southern end of the line.
It is not all negative though. Regional housebuilders are active again in villages close to Tweedbank Station such as Gattonside and Melrose. However, these developers tend to be building out their land banks rather than actively acquiring land.
The Borders Railway has undoubtedly increased the number of visitors to the area. However, it is difficult at this stage to determine its full economic impact. I believe it will have a positive effect in the long-term, but it probably needs to become more established and generate a proven "track record" (excuse the pun) before confidence in the commercial and other property sectors grows.