Row between General Election candidates over Borders Railway

SNP candidate Calum Kerr and Conservative candidate John Lamont
SNP candidate Calum Kerr and Conservative candidate John Lamont

A row has broken out between two parliamentary candidates over who is to blame for a delay in the proposed Borders Railway extension.

Conservative candidate John Lamont and SNP candidate Calum Kerr appeared to blame their parties’ respective governments for the lack of a full feasibility study into extending the Borders Railway from Tweedbank on to Hawick and Carlisle.

The row stemmed from a visit to Hawick in November by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who during the trip said there are ‘big, complex issues’ to look at before extending the Borders railway down to Hawick and on to Carlisle.

During a previous visit to Hawick in 2016, while campaigning for the 2016 Holyrood election, Ms Sturgeon promised a full feasibility study into extending the Borders railway on to Carlisle.

However, that feasibility study has not come to fruition, and only a pre appraisal has been completed by Transport Scotland.

At a general election hustings event in Hawick, held by BBC Scotland on Monday December 9, Calum Kerr blamed the lack of progress on the Conservative Government in Westminster.

He said: “I’m a huge supporter of extending the Borders Railway, and again this should be something cross party that we all work on.

“I’m delighted that John has seen the light, because it’s not difficult to find, you only need to Google it, in the Guardian you’ll find John described as ‘a vocal critic’ who is actually trying to get the money spent on the roads.

“By the way, we should spend money on the roads, it’s not an either or. I’m a massive supporter of it, we’re completely behind it.

“There is a challenge, and this is where I’d like to know what John’s been doing on his bahookie down in Westminster the last two years, because the Scottish Government has done what they need to do, in terms of the pre appraisal, and we need the UK Government to step up here.

“What we need is someone in Westminster who works cross party, as I did with David Mundell and Rory Stewart, to find consensus and get Westminster doing their part, because at the moment they’re not. We need the Tories to step up.”

As he talked about Mr Lamont’s alleged criticism of the Borders Railway, Mr Kerr held aloft a print out of an article by journalist Severin Carrell, which appeared in the Guardian newspaper on November 5 2012.

It reads: ‘John Lamont, a Tory MSP, has been a continuing critic of the project. He said there was “huge frustration” in other parts of the Borders about its heavy cost and the length of the route. “The more they have looked at it, they say it’s not a railway to the Borders, it’s a railway to Galashiels. The vast majority of residents won’t get any greater access to rail than they do at the moment,” he said.

‘That £295m budget had drained spending from other public transport improvements in the region, and could have been better spent on roads and bus links. “It’s more than just the Galashiels community that needs to be served with better public transport. It’s everywhere in the Borders,” he said.’

The chair of the hustings event, BBC political journalist Kirsten Campbell, asked for John Lamont’s response.

He told the panel: “I very much support extending the railway to Hawick and Newcastleton, and on to Carlisle and I’m pleased the Borderlands Growth Deal has released some funding to ensure the next part of the process can continue.

“I’ve met with the MP in the Border action group in Carlisle to discuss the opportunities that exist between Carlisle and the Borders if the railway is able to be extended.

“There was a huge amount of alarm when the First Minister visited Hawick and all of a sudden suggested there many, many obstacles in the way of the railway extending compared to what she said previously when she visited Hawick and said there was an absolute commitment to this and now all of a sudden that appears to be have been diluted significantly, so there is concern about that.

“I absolutely support extending the railway, and we need to ensure we have an integrated transport network, because we can’t have a situation like now where only those people who can access train stations are able to access good transport links.

“We need to ensure that all communities, and outlying communities in particular, have good buses, and good roads, to be able to access the opportunities…”

Mr Kerr then interrupted Mr Lamont, saying: “On that specific point [about the Borders Railway], her Majesty’s Treasury’s Green Book guidance says there has to be a pre appraisal, this is cross-Border, it has to be in England too, there has to be a pre appraisal done and it has to come from Westminster.

“We’ve done our part, have you got any progress in London? Because that needs to happen too.”

Mr Lamont replied: “The transport fund has made it very, very clear that they are supporting this and funding is there.

“I’m interested in the fact that you haven’t denied that the First Minister…”

Mr Lamont was cut off as the debate became intelligible, with both men talking over each other and the chair of the panel, Kirsten Campbell, struggling to regain control for a brief period of time.

Once the two men had quietened down, Ms Campbell wrapped up the programme.

Voters go to the polls tomorrow, Thursday December 12.