How a rail line can boost business for years to come

By Phil Dibsdale, Inward Investment Manager, Borders Railway Blueprint Group

THE Borders Railway, which started operating in September 2015, has already brought economic, social and environmental benefits across Edinburgh, Midlothian and the Scottish Borders, but this is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential the railway unlocks. It’s opening up opportunities for new and growing enterprises, creating jobs, and making it easier for people to do business in the area. That’s not just anecdotal; we have the stats to prove it.

A recent report commissioned by Transport Scotland and the Borders Railway Blueprint Group, with the aim of evaluating the project’s success a year on from opening, has shown that its attracting new workers, homeowners and tourists to communities served by the line. House sales rates are up; hotel bed space nights are up; visitor spend is up.

The study showed that the service has been a major factor in decisions to relocate to the area, with 50 per cent of users who had moved house and 80 per cent of those who changed jobs stating that the railway had been a factor in their decision. There was also a tourism benefit, with 23 per cent of visitors stating that they would not have made the trip without the line.

It’s a great insight into how the line is helping the whole region be more connected: not just the obvious transport connections but also connecting businesses to new markets and talent, entrepreneurs to new opportunities, people to jobs, and the countryside to the city.

An increasing number of businesses are starting to realise that the railway will be a catalyst for a more diversified business base for many years to come. This will bring new demand for learning and skills, with local universities and colleges already well primed for that challenge.

All of the partners in the Borders Railway Blueprint partnership are focussed on revitalising the communities along the line to create great places to live, work and learn in, as well as opening-up world-class destinations to visitors.

We need to nurture and promote the development opportunities along the rail corridor to maximise the benefits to the region, taking full advantage of the improved transport infrastructure and providing an attractive environment for investors and occupiers.

Those of us in the regeneration profession like to refer to this as “placeshaping”. This concept is at the heart of the four masterplans currently being developed for locations along the rail corridor, in Newtongrange, Stobb Hill/Lady Victoria, Galashiels and Tweedbank. Designed in partnership with local people, these will help us to deliver opportunities for investors and companies looking to move into the region, as well as new homes for the growing workforce. Overall, the economic prospects for the area are excellent but, there is still a lot of work to be done and some of the projects will have a long lead time.

In the meantime, we’re spreading the word about the area’s strengths and potential, especially for some of Scotland’s most important growth sectors and the support available from the public authorities. A new website www.bordersrailway.co.uk and campaign – Borders Railway: More Connected – captures all that’s great about the area and what is has to offer businesses.

“The increasing powers of Steam…will I think one day waft friends together in the course of a few hours…” said Sir Walter Scott. He was right of course, but I’m not sure he could have foreseen how much the new Borders Rail link would boost the economy and shape the communities in the area he called home.