UNLESS councillors support significant further investment to improve roads being used by forestry operations, carrying out a special study to see how much consideration such roads get when it comes to local authority spending plans would not be value for money.
That was the view of Selkirkshire councillor, Gordon Edgar (Ind), when, in his capacity as Scottish Borders Council Executive Member for Environment and Infrastructure, he replied to questioning at last week’s full session of the local authority.
The issue of roads being used and subsequently suffering damage from timber vehicles and operations has been a controversial issue in the past, including in the Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys.
Just last year, work was carried out along the stretch of the unclassified road at Potburn at the head of the Ettrick Valley, with funding coming jointly from the local authority and the government’s timber transport fund.
The request for a study came from Councillor Gavin Logan (Tweeddale East, Con), who asked Mr Edgar exactly what consideration was given to routes, including undesignated routes, which are damaged by timber extraction and haulage operations with regards to the local authority’s capital expenditure programme, and if he agreed that a specific study into this problem should be considered.
In reply, Mr Edgar explained: “Forests cover approximately 18 per cent of the Scottish Borders.
“The harvesting of timber in the area has intensified in the last decade or so as the forests have reached maturity.
“The impact on roads within the Scottish Borders through timber extraction is acknowledged as an issue.
“Support funding is available from Central Government through the Strategic Timber Transport Fund, but this involves the council match funding at least 50 per cent of the total cost of any scheme.
“The process is also a competitive one and bids normally outweigh available funding by a considerable factor.
“Scottish Borders Council has been successful in the past in gaining access to this fund, most recently for work in the Ettrick Valley. Capital schemes to improve roads damaged by forestry extraction compete with other priorities in the Capital Financial Plan.
“The current roads block allocation of £1.7million is prioritised on several factors including damage, safety, hierarchy, usage, connectivity and other factors.
“Unless there is support from council for a significant investment in forestry roads, I do not believe that a study would prove to be value for money.”
Commenting that it was “a pity” that his call for a study did not gain support, Mr Logan said that the Scottish Government allocates a grant for roads based on the length of the roads in the Borders and he pressed for more of this cash to actually be spent on these issues, since it was not ring-fenced for this purpose.
Mr Edgar said he agreed much more money should be spent on roads. “But, unfortunately, money has to be spent subject to the parameters of other spending requirements in the Borders,” he added.
The Southern Upland Partnership’s valleys project officer, Julie Nock, touched on forestry road issues when compiling her recently completed plan to help regenerate the valleys.
Asked for her view, she was doubtful about the sort of study as requested by Mr Logan.
“I think it would be very difficult to calculate the level of damage caused to roads specifically by timber lorries,” Ms Nock told us.
“But timber operations and roads is an issue in valley communities.”