Shona Haslam: How the Borders have reaped the rewards of the new line

The Borders Railway has been about so much more than simply transporting commuters up to Edinburgh or allowing tourists to access the beautiful landscapes and historic sights further south. The railway has been about stimulating the economy of the central Borders and the surrounding area. Transport links are key when it comes to growing a business – as the three local authority leaders discuss in their blog posts.

First, we have Councillor Shona Haslam, Leader of Scottish Borders Council who shares some insight into how the Borders themselves have reaped the rewards of the new line.

Shona Haslam, Leader of Scottish Borders Council, shares some insight into how the Borders themselves have reaped the rewards of the new line.

It is hard to believe that two years have passed since Her Majesty The Queen officially opened the Borders Railway.

The first 12 months proved to be an unparalleled success, with journey numbers reaching 1.3million, and the second year has seen the same number of passengers continue to use service.

It is still early days, but already we have seen major social and economic benefits for the Borders, linked to the railway.

For example, there was the Scottish Tourism Economic Assessment Monitor (STEAM) statistics released earlier this year. It showed a significant improvement in key tourism performance figures in the first half of 2016 for the Borders, compared to the first half of 2015 when the railway was not yet open.

The Borders showed improved results in every STEAM category – the only area of mainland Scotland to do so for this period.

These included a 27 per cent increase in the number of visitor days in hotels and bed and breakfasts and a 20 per cent rise in visitor spend on food and drink.

There was also an eight per cent rise in employment related to tourism.

Last month also saw over 1,600 visitors take a trip to the Borders on four sold-out Sunday steam train journeys, visiting attractions and restaurants while in the area, while the railway has made the area more accessible to major events such as the recent Tour of Britain.

There are also plenty case studies from local firms, organisations and people which supports the introduction of the 35-mile line in September 2015.

For instance, Born in the Borders has grown its business and now has a café at Galashiels Transport Interchange and a kiosk at Tweedbank Station.

Borders College witnessed an increase in applications of 74% in the 2016/17 period compared to the previous year from people living in the Mid and East Lothian areas.

Meanwhile, Spark Energy report that they have found it easier to attract talent to their Selkirk offices - which employ over 300 staff -thanks to the railway providing better transport links.

There are more exciting opportunities ahead, such as Scottish Borders Council’s deal with global IT firm CGI to bring around 200 new jobs to the Borders, the regeneration of Galashiels which includes the introduction of a new visitor attraction for the Great Tapestry of Scotland and the Tweedbank Masterplan.

There is lots of positive news, but also plenty of hard work still to do.

However, as part of the Borders Railway Blueprint programme, we have a clear plan and commitment to continue to capitalise on the opportunities presented by the new line.