Borders Railway set to benefit midlothian

Ian Gardner, Director at Rosslyn Chapel trust
Ian Gardner, Director at Rosslyn Chapel trust

The countdown has started, soon the new Borders Railway will be up and running.

And for the first time in nearly 50 years, train passengers will be able to whizz from Tweedbank in the Borders to the heart of Edinburgh, breathing new life into towns and villages along the route.

As the return of rail travel to the area edges ever closer, we look at the new town it will serve at Shawfair and how it will impact on a far more settled community at Eskbank.

SHAWFAIR

It has been 20 years in the planning, a mammoth project that will eventually transform waste land on the edge of Edinburgh into one of the most futuristic towns in Scotland.

Soon Shawfair will become a reality, and a new commuter town will take its place on the map.

The scale is phenomenal: 4,000 homes, 1000 sq ft of commercial and retail space, combined in a £200 million plus development which will help to secure 4,000 jobs.

It will be the biggest urban expansion of Edinburgh and the Lothians in modern times and is estimated to pump nearly £100m into the local economy each year once it’s completed.

To put it more simply, a town that’s equivalent in size to Dunblane or Linlithgow, with the added bonus of a commercial space twice the size of the existing St James Centre, served by a half hourly rail link that will speed residents into Edinburgh in under 15 minutes.

What’s more, it will be one of the most environmentally sound new developments in Scotland, hopefully drawing heat from underground sources and tapping into energy supplied by a nearby waste reprocessing facility, with solar panels as standard and built to take advantage of green technology.

Shawfair will spring up on the south eastern wedge of disused land between Danderhall and the city by-pass, on an area once occupied by Monktonhall Colliery, bought in 1995 for just £1.18m by Lothian Regional Council and the district councils of Midlothian and Edinburgh.

The land was eventually sold to developers for £6m and the plans to create the new town of Shawfair – a district that could help ease pressure on Edinburgh’s housing stock – took shape.

According to Dalkeith Councillor Jim Bryant, Midlothian’s planning chairman, Shawfair will not only be a completely new town, but one of the nation’s most modern in design.

“It’s going to be a very futuristic town,” he says. “We are insisting that the houses must be ecologically sound.

“We are hoping that the mineworks will supply some of the heating using water from underground. It could mean heating bills for people living there may be as long as just £300 a year.

“It is being very carefully planned.”

The Shawfair project is being delivered by Shawfair LLP, a joint venture between Mactaggart & Mickel and Buccleuch Property.

While the first sod has already been cut, it will take 25 years to slot all the Shawfair parts into place – five distinct communities are planned. Eventually the result will be a self-sufficient town with health facilities, shops and businesses.

The area’s children will attend one of three schools proposed - Midlothian Council recently gave the go-ahead for one ‘super school’.

Within striking distance will be a sprawling rail marshalling yard, which will provide jobs for local people, and a multi-million pounds zero waste reprocessing plant designed to transform recyclable waste drawn from around Edinburgh and Midlothian into energy.

And with the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh College campus, Shawfair Business Park on the doorstep and a quick 13-minute commute to town, it’s little wonder First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recently commented that Shawfair will provide “countless opportunities”.

At its heart will be the rail link. Although the Borders Railway plans initially bypassed Shawfair, the route was altered to create a rail station to serve what will become a brand new community.

“The central point to Shawfair is the railway station,” stresses Councillor Bryant. “That is where the town centre will be, that will be Shawfair’s heart.”

ESKBANK

From the garden of his Eskbank home, restaurateur Gerry Goldwyre has the perfect view of the new Borders Railway.

And once the trains pull into the area’s new railway station, he’s convinced he’ll be looking at a fresh influx of visitors who will not be disappointed by what the area has to offer.

Gerry, a former Masterchef winner who runs the exclusive Water Tower restaurant, believes the biggest impact on the area will come from day trippers eager to explore a corner of countryside just a stone’s throw from the city centre.

“There are fabulous walks around here, places to cycle, so many places to visit,” he says.

“Eskbank is a gateway to the countryside, a buffer between the more built up areas and the rural.

“And I’m sure this new railway station with breathe life into Eskbank.”

Gerry and wife Susan have a personal connection with the rail line – Susan’s father was a train driver whose route took him along the old Waverley line. That link and her local voluntary work, means the couple is among the select few to receive a ‘golden ticket’ for the first official journey next month.

Gerry is looking forward to making full use of the service on his doorstep.

“I’ll definitely use the train to go into Edinburgh – it makes so much more sense,” he says. “And the prospect of getting on a train here and then travelling to most places around the country is fabulous.”

While some new houses have sprung up around the Eskbank area, it’s expected the greatest boost from the rail link will be in the form of tourism and commuters.

There’s no doubt that travellers through Eskbank will enjoy a train journey rich in engineering history – crossing over the Glenesk Viaduct on the way, one of Scotland’s finest pre-Victorian railway bridge, standing 18.3 m high and spanning the River North Esk.

Indeed, as Ian Gardner, chairman of Midlothian Tourism Forum and Director of Rosslyn Chapel Trust, points out, history and attractions are part of the area’s until now hidden charms.

“Midlothian is often overshadowed by Edinburgh but I think the railway will open up more awareness of what is here and push the profile of the area significantly,” he says.

“And anything that makes it easier for people to get somewhere will create a natural increase in business opportunities.

There’s no shortage of places worth visiting, he adds. “The National Mining Museum is within a short walking distance from Newtongrange station for a start.

“Rosslyn Chapel, Butterfly World … and so many outdoor spaces.

“We are lucky because we can attract people coming from the borders up to Edinburgh and those going from Edinburgh towards the borders.”

Every year Rosslyn Chapel greets around 160,000 visitors. The rail link could mean even more – and bring an added spin-off benefit to other local businesses, he adds.

“We are working at developing a partnership with a local taxi firm to pick up people at Eskbank station and bring them to Rosslyn Chapel.

“It’s down to local businesses to see the opportunities and make the most of them.”