South Scotland

Midlothian and Borders businesses advised to 'embrace the railway'

Train on Borders railway Image copyright Borders Railway

A report on the economic opportunities of the train line between the Borders and Edinburgh has urged businesses to "embrace the railway".

The 118-page Midlothian and Borders Tourism Destination Audit identified a string of strengths and weaknesses.

It highlighted almost 30 tourism business development opportunities linked to the railway.

However, it said firms could not "sit back and wait" for others to take the lead in offering new services.

The line between Tweedbank and the capital is set to reopen in September.

The report said it had already seen a "positive impact" in terms of new housing and businesses being built.

Image copyright Borders Railway

But it called for "coordination and collaboration" in order to maximise the benefits.

"The railway will not deliver tourism benefits if every business sits back and waits for someone else to take the lead in initiating the development of new products and services," it concluded.

"It will not deliver tourism benefits if every business sits in its own little silo and only collaborates with others in the same sector or the same local community.

"A wider vision is needed to make the most of the tourism opportunities the Borders Railway can bring."

The audit identified particular tourism strengths in Midlothian including:

  • Innovative facilities for active younger markets
  • Heritage hotels and properties with small scale meeting facilities
  • Large retail complexes that attract visitors into the area
  • An extensive public transport infrastructure
  • A sizeable cycling business sector

In the Scottish Borders, the strengths identified were:

  • High quality accommodation stock, particularly in the serviced accommodation sector
  • Market leading facilities for outdoor activities
  • Iconic built heritage facilities providing high quality visitor experiences
  • A wide range of speciality shopping and artist studios/galleries
  • An extensive and imaginative portfolio of events
Image copyright MJ Richardson
Image caption The report praised the high quality of the townscape in places like Melrose

The high quality of townscapes and the vibrancy of the independent retail sector in a number of towns in the Borders - Kelso, Melrose and Peebles in particular - was praised.

Dalkeith, Gorebridge and Newtongrange were singled out for their attractive local heritage and potential for development.

Concerns were raised over the number of empty premises and "lack of animation" in some larger towns such as Galashiels, Hawick and Penicuik.

A "strong sense of place in communities" in the Scottish Borders was also said to be "much weaker" closer to Edinburgh.

The limited range of visitor facilities in the key railheads of Galashiels and Tweedbank was highlighted as was the "considerable distance" of some iconic visitor facilities from their nearest railway station.

Image copyright Walter Baxter
Image caption A "lack of animation" in towns like Galashiels was pointed out in the study

Councillor Stuart Bell, of Scottish Borders Council, said: "The audit clearly outlines the potential to grow tourism in Midlothian and Scottish Borders, taking advantage of the opening of the Borders Railway.

"This is the 'warts and all' view of the tourism industry in the area that we knew we needed.

"It is important that the problems are addressed, and in fact many can actually be viewed as further opportunities to maximise the economic impact of the railway."

Councillor Jim Bryant, of Midlothian Council, said they had to work together to "exceed visitors' expectations".

"We want them to come back again and stay even longer and recommend Midlothian and the Scottish Borders to friends and family," he said.

"Business Gateway services in both areas will be launching a new Business Development Programme to encourage and help local businesses come together to make the most of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to put Midlothian and the Scottish Borders more strongly on the Scottish tourism map."

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