This week’s full meeting of Scottish Borders Council is being asked to approve a final business case for the Central Borders Innovation Park, as it is line to be renamed.
If given the thumbs-up, that business case would be used to secure £15m from the Scottish Government as part of the Edinburgh and south east Scotland city region deal.
That £1.3bn deal was agreed in August 2018 by the UK Government, Scottish Government and local authorities including Scottish Borders Council.
The UK and Scottish governments will together invest £600m over the next 15 years, with other partners committing an additional £700m.
In a report to Thursday’s meeting, council chief economic development officer Bryan McGrath highlights the need for change, saying: “The current depressed state of the office and industrial property market in the Scottish Borders requires the level of public-sector investment planned under this programme.
“As with many other rural economies, the Scottish Borders has to overcome the problem of market failure caused by a combination of remote locations and poor infrastructure, a lack of supply of modern business premises and the increasing obsolescence of existing stock.
“Public-sector intervention is needed to address this issue and is crucial to ensuring that sustainable, inclusive economic growth can take place.
“The coming of the Borders Railway has presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enable the local economy to grow.
“A Central Borders Innovation Park, situated next to the Borders Railway terminus at Tweedbank, would meet the urgent need for high-quality business space in the central Scottish Borders.”
Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, the council’s executive member for business and economic development, said: “The Borders Railway has presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which we, alongside our partners, are aiming to grasp.
“As part of our plans, the development of the Central Borders Innovation Park, thanks to not only the city region deal investment but that of the council, our partners and the private sector, will help to deliver high-quality, higher-paid jobs which the Scottish Borders currently lacks.
“Work has already started on the demolition of Eildon Mill, with further work beginning at the quarry site shortly.
“Alongside supporting the innovation park, the city region deal will deliver other benefits for the whole of our area, including significant investment across the region in employability and skills, transport, housing, innovation and culture.”
The council will need to forward-fund the projected costs, and foot the bill for interest repayments, as funding from the deal will be spread over 15 years.
In his report to councillors, Mr McGrath writes: “Over the project life, the average cost of the projected borrowing is £142,000 per annum. However, during 2026-27, this will peak at £224,000. This is based on interest-only costs.
“The city region deal growth fund grant will be treated as a capital debtor and be used to repay principal borrowing.”
The development plots are to be built in three phases.
The first will create 4,660sq m of new office space and 2,950sq m of new industrial space at the site previously lined up to host the Great tapestry of Scotland visitor centre now being constructed in central Galashiels, along with Eildon Mill and part of the Tweedbank Quarry site.
The second will create up to 5,177sq m of office space on the rest of the quarry site and into Lowood Estate.
The third phase will add 1,632sq m of office space and 400sq m at the southern edge of the Lowood Estate, recently bought by the council for £9.6m.
Councillors will meet from 10am this Thursday, January 31, at their Newtown headquarters to discuss the business case.