The Central Borders: A Plan for Expansion 1968

The population of the Scottish Borders declined throughout the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in the rural areas.  The population of the four counties, together, fell by some 10,000 people between 1951 and 1971 (from 107,575 to 97,464), although the population of the burghs remained fairly stable with small increases in Peebles, Galashiels, Kelso and Eyemouth.  The population of Berwickshire declined by almost 4,100 people between 1951 and 1971 (from 25,068 to 20,962), that of Roxburghshire by 3,600 (from 45,557 to 41,959), that of Peeblesshire by 1,500 (from 15,226 to 13,675) and that of Selkirkshire by 900 (from 21,724 to 20,868).  Thus, by 1971, the population of the four counties had decreased by some 19,000 persons from its high point of 116,500 one hundred years previously.  Government intervention would be required to arrest this decline!

The 1966 White Paper on the Scottish Economy 1965-1970 set out proposals to expand the economy of Scotland by providing new jobs and reducing the net loss of population experienced over the previous decades.  The Borders, along with South-West Scotland, North-East Scotland and the Highlands and Islands, were the subject of special studies by the Scottish Economic Planning Board; these were areas that were essentially rural in character and dependent on agriculture, where the growth of other employment had not been sufficient to offset the loss of jobs in agriculture and a decline in population.  The study of the Borders covered an area encompassing the counties of Berwickshire, Peeblesshire, Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire, the Langholm District of Dumfriesshire and the northern part of Northumberland, including Berwick-upon-Tweed.

For the “Western Area” (the counties of Peebles, Selkirk and Roxburgh, excluding Kelso & District, together with Langholm & District in Dumfries County), the study concluded that without the provision of a range of employment opportunities, especially for men, the heavy outward migration of people of working age would continue, with all the consequent effects on existing industry, on the structure of the population and on the standard of service, social and cultural facilities.  The White Paper proposed that within the catchment area of Galashiels (a radius of 15 miles), which had a population of 73,000 persons, there should be a substantial and integrated programme of housing and new industry, the objective being to establish self-sustaining population growth.  A population increase of some 25,000 people over the succeeding 10-15 years (up to 1976-1981) was proposed for the area comprising the three counties of Peeblesshire, Selkirkshire and Roxburghshire, excluding Kelso & District.  Growth would be concentrated on Galashiels, in the first instance, to produce a geographic, economic, social and cultural focus for the Central Borders.  In the “Eastern Area” (Kelso & District, Berwickshire County, Berwick-upon-Tweed Borough and the northern part of Northumberland), where the economy was predominantly agriculture based, growth should be concentrated on Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Professors Johnson-Marshall and Wolfe of Edinburgh University were appointed to prepare a plan for the increase in population of 25,000 people within the Galashiels Catchment Area.  Their report “The Central Borders: A Plan for Expansion”, commonly referred to as “The Central Borders Plan”, was published in two volumes in 1968.  The Central Borders Plan envisaged a “regional city” with the main settlements; Galashiels, Selkirk, Hawick and Jedburgh, sharing facilities and amenities.  In addition to the land allocated for housing in the main settlements in the existing County Development Plans, which could accommodate an additional 5,000 people, the Central Borders Plan incorporated the proposed new village at Tweedbank, where a population of 4,400 people was planned, and identified Newtown St. Boswells, which at the time had good road AND rail connections, as the location for a major settlement of some 10,000 population.  Approximately four-fifths of the proposed growth of 25,000 people was thus located within a central corridor stretching from Galashiels to Newtown St. Boswells.  Industrial development would be concentrated within the areas zoned for industry in the existing towns, notably Hawick and Galashiels, in the first instance, with new industry at St. Boswells (Charlesfield) in the longer term.  Other proposals included a new District General Hospital between Galashiels and Melrose and town centre improvements in Hawick, Galashiels, Jedburgh and Peebles.

Excluding commitments in the existing County Development Plans, housing land for only an additional 1,700 people (out of the total of 25,000) was identified for Hawick, Selkirk and Jedburgh in the Central Borders Plan.  These Burgh Councils were not happy.  There was also a strong body of opinion, in Selkirkshire and Roxburghshire, against the proposed expansion of Newtown St. Boswells.  Neither County Council showed any enthusiasm for major development at Newtown.  Selkirkshire County Council wanted to see more development in Galashiels and Selkirk, and Roxburgh County Council favoured a more modest increase of 3,000 people at Newtown St. Boswells with an enlarged share for Hawick and Jedburgh.  None of the County Development Plans were amended to reflect the recommendations put forward in the Central Borders Plan.  Instead, working parties were established to examine the potential of larger-scale growth in Galashiels and Hawick.  The Galashiels Working Party Report, published in 1973, recommended that additional land at Mossilee, with a capacity of over 1,000 dwellings (3,500 people), be allocated for housing in a comprehensively updated Selkirkshire County Development Plan, which would also include trunk road improvements through Galashiels and the construction of a new road along the, now closed, railway line.  The Hawick Working Party Report, published in early 1974, proposed a population increase for the town of some 4,900 persons, far beyond that recommended in the Central Borders Plan.  Clearly, the view from Hawick was that the town’s status as the largest town in the Borders must be preserved.  Working parties for Jedburgh and Kelso, similarly, recommended significant allocations of land for housing and industry in their respective burghs.

Contrary to expectations, the population of the Central Borders continued to decline in the period up to 1971.  The population of Roxburghshire fell from 45,500 in 1951 to 42,000 in 1971; that of Selkirkshire fell from 21,700 to 20,800.  Hawick and Jedburgh lost population, whilst that of Selkirk and Galashiels remained stable.  Only Kelso experienced significant growth.  There was significant population decline in the landward areas.

The Central Borders Plan did not cover Berwickshire, except for Earlston and Lauder, or Peeblesshire.  In Berwickshire, the population fell by over 3,000 persons to 20,600 in 1971.  It would be 1972 before a draft ‘Rural Policy for Berwickshire’ would set out a more optimistic view of the future for the county than that expressed in the development plan, approved in 1965, and would identify settlements for expansion.  In Peeblesshire, the county population fell from 15,200 in 1951 to 13,700 in 1971.  Tourism was seen as the basis for future economic growth rather than industrial development, and a ‘Plan for Tourist Development Proposals’ was approved in 1969, including proposals for a range of picnic sites and car parks/viewpoints.

The next post will summarise the state of the Region on the eve of local government re-organisation in 1975, when the four counties of Peeblesshire, Selkirkshire, Roxburghshire and Berwickshire, together with a small part of Midlothian (incorporating the Gala Water valley villages of Stow, Fountainhall and Heriot) would be amalgamated to form the Borders Region and the Borders Regional Council would become the unitary planning authority for the whole of the Region.


Author: douglas hope

Over fifty years experience in town and country planning, including twenty-one years with the Borders Regional Council (1975-1996) and twenty years with the Scottish Government as a Reporter for the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals.

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