A £10m investment in buying the remains of Lowood Estate at Tweedbank, as part of the masterplan based on the Borders Railway, has been made by Scottish Borders Council.
Developing the central Borders estate would cost an extra £80m on top of the price of the land, but would potentially generate £150m of gross value added for the region’s economy. The site has been earmarked for 300 new homes but is being eyed up for non-residential uses too, potentially creating almost 180 jobs and the same number of vacancies during construction.
With the possibility of so many permanent jobs, Mid Berwickshire councillor and SBC’s executive member for business and economic development, Mark Rowley supports the move saying: “The development potential of these sites has been hugely boosted by the presence of the Borders Railway.
“By maximising the economic impact of the railway in its current form, we strengthen the case for its potential future extension to Hawick and beyond.”
Not everyone is convinced the deal will be a money-spinner for the council and the region’s economy, though.
Councillor Stuart Bell, leader of the authority’s Scottish National Party opposition group, said: “ When the council is having to cut back on essential services, it is wrong to use public money to purchase private land for speculative housing development.
“Fundamentally, we don’t believe that the purchase of the Lowood Estate represents value for money for the Borders public.”
“It is probably an attractive site for housing, but there will be enormous infrastructure costs to facilitate its development, and it is not the council’s business to be bearing these risks.
“The council is overreaching itself buying Lowood land that I think is overvalued.
“There is a danger this will be seen by the public as another central Borders vanity project.”
Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson added: “ The council is financing the cost of borrowing this additional £10m by cutting other services and it is also carrying all of the inherent risks of the development.
“We don’t consider this to be a prudent decision.
“The administration has also agreed to pay for the upkeep of the estate until it is eventually sold on. We are told that one of the conditions is to maintain the land to current standards, so we are now in an unacceptable position where we can’t cut the grass adequately in our cemeteries but we will finance the grass-cutting on a new estate we have purchased.”