CONCERN has been expressed that a feasibility study into extending the Borders Railway to Hawick and Carlisle is moving at a “snail’s pace”.

The £10m study is being funded as part of the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal with Scottish Borders Council (SBC) as the lead authority.

The project is creating the evidence base needed for the business case to help complete the missing link of the former Waverley Line, which partially reopened between Edinburgh and the central Borders in 2015.

Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR) welcomed news that Scottish Government transport minister Fiona Hyslop plans to travel to Hawick in January to meet with the campaign group and other local community people.

But there has been a call for the feasibility study to pick up speed.

Marion Short, chair of CBR, said: “The campaign’s main concern is to emphasise that the feasibility study is progressing at what can only be described as a ‘snail’s pace’ and the mechanism for releasing the funding is very slow and restrictive.

“We understand that the feasibility study funding is fully budgeted but we now require this work to be expedited and my contacts at Scottish Borders Council say it is taking much longer than expected.”

Ms Short and Peter Heubeck, CBR’s technical adviser, are meeting with the leader and deputy leader of SBC early in January to discuss CBR’s concerns, in particular, questioning the delay in appointing a project manager.

Meanwhile, a meeting has been arranged in the spring between the Newcastleton Community Trust and Fiona Hyslop.

Greg Cuthbert, of Newcastleton Community Trust and a committee member of CBR, is hoping the minister will gain first-hand experience of this isolated community and what its problems of lack of public transport, poor road infrastructure, lack of employment, depopulation and social exclusion mean.

He also wants the minister to see the potential of the area between Hawick and Carlisle for natural capital, renewables, net zero ambitions and commercial forestry.

Campaigners also believe news that BSW Timber Group has submitted a planning application to Cumberland Council for expanding their timber processing plant at Cargo north-west of Carlisle and adjacent to the West Coast Main Line is a “salient reminder of the important role the Borders Railway could play in transporting timber from the forests around Newcastleton and Kielder”.

Council leader Euan Jardine, speaking on behalf of SBC, said: “Scottish Borders Council has requested a meeting with Transport Scotland early in the new year to discuss progress with the appointment of a programme manager to lead the Borders Railway extension feasibility work.

"The council has consistently and repeatedly asserted its desire for the extension of the Borders Railway from Tweedbank to Carlisle over many years, and Borderlands Growth Deal partners and both governments remain absolutely committed to the investment in the necessary feasibility study and business case.

"This will be funded by a £10 million funding commitment from UK and Scottish governments via the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We recognise that extending the Borders Railway to Carlisle via Hawick is a regional priority, and we remain committed to enabling Growth Deal Partners to progress the case through the Borderlands Deal.

“Transport Scotland officials provided feedback on behalf of both governments in November to Deal Partners on their funding request for project management support, noting the need to fully embed and reflect both the Scottish and UK governments’ appraisal and business case methodologies and the requirement for the role to understand and engage with each government’s investment decision making process with regard to rail schemes.

“To date no response to the feedback has been received, however a meeting is planned for the coming weeks between Transport Scotland and Scottish Borders Council representatives to discuss the way forward.”