Long ago it was a territory defined by turbulence, characterised by barriers and bloodshed – from the building of Hadrian’s famous wall to centuries of cross-border battling, pillaging and feuding.
Today, however, things are very different. The remnants of far-off conflicts may still be evident in the area’s unsurpassed heritage of Roman remains, fortified houses and battlefields.
But in these more civilised times, the modern Borderlands lies at the geographical heart of the United Kingdom with an economy based on communities in Scotland and England working together for the common good.
That is one of the reasons why it gives me such pleasure to usher in the next chapter in the story of this wonderful and distinctive area through the signing of today’s Borderlands Growth Deal – a historic initiative led by the UK government working with partners to bring over £450 million into the region and create 5,500 jobs.
As a crucial part of the £1.7 billion invested by the UK government in city and growth deals in Scotland and the Borderlands, the agreement has pioneered a partnership involving five local authority areas from Scotland and England.
The bringing together of Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Carlisle City, Cumbria and Northumberland County councils, alongside the UK and Scottish governments, has been a unique triumph of collaboration and will transform lives.
The deal, which is the first to bring together local authorities from Scotland and England, reflects the truth that more unites us than divides us – regardless of what side of the border you happen to live on.
It is an approach that chimes with the reality of life in the area where crossing the border can be a routine occurrence whether it involves going to work, visiting friends and family or simply doing the shopping.
It also recognises the crucial fact that all manner of enterprises rely on business based on both sides of the border. That’s why it makes perfect sense for the south of Scotland and north of England to work together for the prosperity of the one million people living in the region.
As the UK government-led vaccination programme drives back the coronavirus, the Borderlands Growth Deal takes on a new significance as it helps spearhead the post-pandemic economic recovery.
The UK government is at the forefront, investing £265 million in the area, a sum which will be added to by £85 million from the Scottish government with the remainder coming from other partners.
Together this investment will generate around £1.1 billion gross value added to the area and take advantage of the Borderlands’ strategic position between Central Scotland and the urban areas of the Northern Powerhouse.
Improving transport links between Scotland and England lies at the heart of the deal with £5 million from the UK government (matched by the Scottish government) examining the extension of the Borders railway to Carlisle.
That is an exciting prospect, especially when taken in conjunction with the UK government’s Union Connectivity Review, which will revitalise rail, road, sea and air links between all parts of the United Kingdom.
Investment in digital connectivity will be a priority with a £16 million UK government investment to improve broadband and mobile phone coverage in the south of Scotland and a similar sum earmarked for the north of England.
The UK government will invest £7.8 million in the old nuclear site at Chapelcross in Dumfries and Galloway. Working with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the 200-hectare site will be regenerated to create green energy jobs.
The commitment to an environmentally friendly future runs through the Borderlands Growth Deal. And it can also be seen in plans for an £8 million investment in a project to decarbonise the area’s dairy sector – with the Scottish and UK governments providing half of the cash each.
The Dairy Nexus project aims to create a state-of-the-art centre for education and innovation at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) that will benefit the rural communities that are such an important feature of the area’s economy and an important part of our aim to make the Borderlands carbon neutral.
A further £19 million from the UK government will capitalise on the popularity of mountain biking in the area. A Mountain Bike Innovation Centre is planned which will test and manufacture the latest equipment, creating a world-class research centre and destination for the sport.
These are just some of the projects to gain from the Borderlands Growth Deal, which has emerged as a shining example of how the UK government can work with others to benefit local communities. And it adds to the £9.7 billion the UK Treasury has already provided to the Scottish government during the pandemic.
Alongside the many more millions of pounds coming to Scotland through initiatives like our levelling up and shared prosperity funds, this deal will play a key role in putting the coronavirus crisis behind us.
It is also an example of how the UK government is working directly with local communities to improve lives in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.
And with the deal’s plans to attract more than four million tourists, many more people will be able to immerse themselves in the area’s history.
While doing so they will discover a part of the world that is benefiting from a collective spirit with the UK government that is a far cry from the cross-border skirmishes that made it a medieval no-man’s land.
Some 2,000 years after Roman Emperor Hadrian built his famous wall to protect the Roman Empire from warlike Pictish tribes, it is a future that looks far beyond the frontiers of the past.
Iain Stewart is the Conservative MP for Milton Keynes South and Minister for Scotland