SCOTLAND’S former coal mining heartland is to receive a £3.3 million injection of cash to tackle unemployment, population decline and transport problems.

The investment will be plunged into the picturesque Upper Nithsdale area of Dumfries and Galloway over the next five years after plans were drawn up as a result of a two-day consultation with residents.

The strategy will focus on improving towns and villages in the region, including Sanquar, Kirkconnel and Kelloholm, and Scotland’s highest village of Wanlockhead.

The plans include new welcome signs for the area, an enterprise centre based in Kirkconnel and Kelloholm, an upgrade of the town centre in Sanquhar between the town hall, Tollbooth museum and A’ The Airts art centre, and a more appealing main street in Kirkconnel and Kelloholm

Historic Sanquhar is a small market town in the Nith Valley surrounded by striking scenery and its main attraction is the Tolbooth Museum, a handsome Georgian town house where the history of the village is revealed.

Dumfries and Galloway Council has agreed to allocate funds of £750,000 to regenerate the area over two financial years up to 2017.

A report to councillors on the Nithsdale Area Committee has proposed using the initial funding allocation to prioritise four projects. The report said the wider plan could create up to 30 new jobs, the equivalent of a 2.3 per cent increase in the current employment figure of 1,300.

Councillor Colin Smyth, chairman of the council’s economy, environment and infrastructure committee, said Upper Nithsdale was their key priority.

He added: “It is a part of the region that suffers higher than average levels of unemployment, as it has never fully recovered from the closure of the coal mines.

“The projects being proposed have come from local people.

“The community meetings held last month were very well attended and the council took a lot from the input, drive and enthusiasm of people in Sanquhar, Kirkconnel and Wanlockhead.

“We are confident that the core regeneration themes that have been developed will be successful in providing job opportunities for the people of Upper Nithsdale, as well as creating long-term sustainability for employers and employees in the area.

“The 18 projects that have emerged as a result of the extensive consultation our council carried out will bring widespread benefits to the whole of Upper Nithsdale. Housing projects, transport infrastructure improvements, and increase in employment opportunities and the likely investment from the private sector are all extremely positive steps for Upper Nithsdale.

“This won’t be a silver bullet for the area and won’t transform it overnight. But it is a start that we intend to build on and we are already in discussions about projects that we hope will bring more jobs to the area.”

Dumfries and Galloway MP Richard Arkless said Upper Nithsdale was “an area of serene beauty which has suffered from chronic underinvestment”, adding: “Although this investment is outside my constituency boundaries it will clearly have a positive effect on the whole Upper Nithsdale area. I look forward to seeing the real benefits of the regeneration in years to come.”