Plea to save Railhead plan

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Ailsa Horizons has appealed for the Scottish Government to think again over proposals to dramatically slash a funding project which it believes would be of great benefit to Carrick.

A rail link, taking thousands of heavy lorries off the A77 in Ayrshire and the A76 through Dumfries & Galloway, now looks set to be axed if Holyrood scraps a grant scheme which has relieved Scottish roads of over 33 million lorry miles a year since 1997.

Ailsa Horizons, the rural economic development agency for South Ayrshire, has been leading the campaign to create a freight railhead adjacent to William Grant's large grain distillery in Girvan.

The agency was on the verge of submitting an application to Holyrood for a Freight Facilities Grant when the Government's Draft Budget revealed that the grants scheme - which has been operating since 1974 - was to be abandoned completely.

Stuart Lindsay, manager of Ailsa Horizons, said: "The Girvan Intermodal Railhead is a key element in our strategy for economic regeneration in rural South Ayrshire.

"It will protect existing jobs and encourage new industry to locate where there is a choice of both road and rail for freight transport. But FFG is critical to the viability of the scheme, thousands of lorry journeys will remain on the roads and thousands of tonnes of carbon will be emitted in to the atmosphere unnecessarily each year.

"We understand that the Scottish Government is forced to make large savings in its budgets. But this is a small scheme with a national funding requirement of just 7 million or less annually. "

He added: "I hope MSPs of all parties will be able to see beyond party politics and find a way to reverse the proposal to shut down this fund."

Colin Howden, director of Transform Scotland (4], the national sustainable transport alliance, said: "Scrapping FFG goes against the Scottish Government's aim of shifting freight from road to rail and sea. The Girvan railhead would offer a welcome reduction in heavy lorry traffic for settlements like Maybole, Minishant, New Cumnock, Sanquhar and Thornhill. FFG should be retained and re-launched on a wider front, with a concerted promotional drive to Scottish manufacturers, processors and logistics companies.

"The Government also has strenuous targets to meet on climate change. The decision to scrap FFG puts its commitment to these in doubt.

"Rail freight is three times more energy-efficient than road haulage, and there are clear carbon benefits from schemes like this."

MSP Cathy Jamieson, whose Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley constituency includes Girvan, has lodged a motion on the matter to the Scottish Parliament.

She said: "The Freight Facilities Grant has been hugely successful and the Girvan scheme has the potential to benefit the local economy, as well as improving the local environment. The move from road to rail could greatly reduce the pressure on local roads, and I know the scheme has the support of many local communities.

"I hope that my motion will receive cross-party support, allowing this important issue to be debated in the Scottish Parliament."

It is anticipated that her motion and the proposal to axe FFG will be debated in Holyrood on January 20.