Sturgeon set for Stranraer visit

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Dumfries and Galloway MP Russell Brown has warned Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon not to come to Stranraer “empty handed”, when she visits the town on April 22 to chair the next meeting of the Stranraer Taskforce.

It will be her first visit to the town since being appointed more than seven months ago to the role of Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities, which includes chairing the taskforce.

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Brown has written to Ms Sturgeon calling for her to use the visit to announce significant Scottish Government investment to help kickstart the regeneration of Stranraer.

Last month Dumfries and Galloway Council allocated almost all of the remaining funds from a £2.4 million pot for the town and the local MP fears that without additional government support the regeneration of Stranraer will grind to a halt.

The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Stena and Dumfries and Galloway Council has been delayed to coincide with Ms Sturgeon’s visit and it is expected the taskforce will discuss a possible extension to the reduced rail fare scheme that was piloted recently for services to and from Stranraer station. However, Mr Brown fears that unless there is a major injection of government funds, for example through reinstating the original promise of £8 million of funding, plans to regenerate Stranraer will stall.

Mr Brown said: “It has taken Nicola Sturgeon seven months to visit Stranraer, so we can only hope that when she does come to the town she isn’t empty handed.

“More than ever Stranraer needs a major injection of government funding to really kickstart the regeneration. Other parts of Scotland have benefited from funding for regeneration but despite the fact unemployment in our region is spiralling out of control, Dumfries and Galloway is all too often a forgotten area in the eyes of the Scottish government.

“It will simply not be good enough if all we get from the visit is a the long overdue announcement over reduced rail fares and a photo opportunity for the Cabinet Secretary watching Stena and the council sign the Memorandum of Understanding, which is already agreed.

“There is a lot of frustration that more than a year since the First Minister announced the establishment of a government-led taskforce to regenerate Stranraer, it has so far achieved very little. That needs to change, starting with the Deputy First Minister’s visit next week.

“She could go a long way to showing a commitment to Stranraer by reinstating the £8 million Scottish Enterprise originally promised for regeneration but failed to deliver on.”

The call for action was backed by Stranraer and North Rhins Councillor Marion McCutcheon, who added: “I have consistently said that if we are to regenerate Stranraer, we need everyone working together. Although there has been a split in the community over how the funds that are available are spent, the council has at least put up over £2 million.

“But so far we haven’t had a commitment from the Scottish government of funding and that is disappointing. The main reason there has been difference of opinion over how funds are spent is because the funding available doesn’t scratch the surface of the projects put forward so far. Far more is needed.

“I strongly believe that if the government puts forward major investment, then it will send a signal to the private sector that we are serious about regeneration and hopefully it will consider investing. If we don’t get major funding from the government, that simply won’t happen.”