Diverted HS2 cash could help fund Edinburgh station - Sue Webber
The biggest impact for people in places like Balerno, Fairmilehead and Liberton of spending over £1bn on a line they will rarely use is on their council tax bills.
Similarly HS2. For all the criticism of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to call a halt at Birmingham, millions of people will never have any need for a fast train between Manchester and London.
But their taxes would have to cover an estimated cost of over £100 billion while improvements closer to home sat in a queue and there are many communities across the whole country with more pressing local transport needs.
Despite talk about the line being vital for levelling up the north, it looks to me more like a faster way for people to get to London than the other way round, not a guaranteed way to spread the capital’s prosperity.
At least the Edinburgh tram can form a transport spine for the vast new development of 11,000 homes proposed for the A8 corridor between Ingliston and Gogar, but it has already been decided that the tram will go no further.
Therefore, expanding communities west of the airport must depend on increasingly unreliable bus services, with McGill’s Eastern Scottish subsidiary about to scrap six West Lothian routes including two from Livingston to Edinburgh. Ratho has virtually no public transport at all.
Ratho itself is growing, but it is nothing compared to Winchburgh where around 3400 new homes are being built, but is no closer to getting the promised railway station of its own, despite being next to the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line. All it needs is a basic halt and ScotRail has already timetabled it into the Edinburgh-Dunblane service.
The developers are meeting their side of the bargain; they’ve paid for a new M9 junction and are pressing ahead with a large transport hub near the planned site of station, with parking, EV charging and a bus interchange, but from the Scottish Government, so far nothing.
Understandably, local people are getting increasingly frustrated with repeated buck-passing, and as the Scottish transport minister Fiona Hyslop is also the Linlithgow constituency MSP, it might have been expected that Winchburgh station would be a top priority. After all, her predecessor Jenny Gilruth allegedly felt able to intervene to stop vital rail maintenance work over Christmas so it wouldn’t inconvenience her constituents.
But no, and so I’ve had to write to Ms Hyslop’s boss, the Cabinet Secretary Mairi McAllan, to try to get things moving.
Network Rail’s talks with the developers are said to be constructive, pardon the pun, but if money is the problem maybe it’s time to take matters out of the Scottish Government’s hands.
As the Winchburgh expansion was part of the UK Government-backed Edinburgh Region City Deal, the station would be an ideal recipient of a tiny part of the cash diverted from HS2. And direct intervention could build the Almond Chord missing link, turning the deserted Edinburgh Gateway station into a busy commuter hub on the Edinburgh-Glasgow line.
No doubt the ever-territorial SNP would squeal about “disrespecting devolution”, but as it stands they are dishonouring their promises.
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Lothian
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