DOUBTS have been cast over plans for a new ambulance station at Borders General Hospital.
Scottish Borders Council’s landscape architect has called for the refusal of the application on its present location at land north west of the hospital due to concerns about the effect on the nearby Eildon Hills.
However, the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) say it is “absolutely critical” that its plans at the BGH go ahead.
And NHS Borders say any delay to the planning process would push back the building of its new £1.8million health centre at Roxburgh Street in Galashiels, which is set to be expanded onto the current ambulance station site in 2013/14.
In his submission, SBC’s landscape architect Jim Knight was critical of SAS.
He wrote: “I have serious concerns that this proposal could damage the integrity of the Eildon Hills National Scenic Area by exposing both the development site and the larger BGH campus to public view directly in front of the hills which are the focal point of the NSA.
“I do accept that a site for the ambulance depot needs to be found, but suspect that the applicant is reluctant to give the alternative locations proper consideration.”
Mr Knight believes a field west of the BGH beside Huntlyburn House is a more suitable location, but SAS say the narrow access road and loss of a green space make it unsuitable.
Mr Knight replied: “The two reasons given for ‘unsuitableness’ seem to be invalid.
“In terms of access/egress to the A6091, surely it is possible to widen a short section of road?
“With reference to the ‘loss of existing open green field land’ this is far less important than the potential damage to the qualities of the National Scenic Area which I expect from this application.”
In an appraisal report to SBC, SAS says its current Galashiels station is not fit for purpose, overcrowded and inefficient in terms of infection control.
The depot’s current location in the middle of the town also means its paramedics only respond to 62 per cent of life-threatening calls from rural areas within eight minutes, well below the national target of 75 per cent.
The report warns: “The proposed ambulance station and workshop on the site within the grounds of Borders General Hospital is absolutely critical to the wellbeing and indeed the lives of Galashiels’ expanding community and its surrounding rural area.
“Should the council be minded to refuse the planning application, there is a clear possibility that a site for the proposed ambulance station will be found outwith Galashiels, as there are no viable alternative sites within hospital grounds.
“This would be to the detriment of the residents of the area.”
An NHS Borders spokeswoman added: “The SAS ambulance station at the BGH needs to be built before the redevelopment of the Roxburgh Street site can commence.
“Any delay in the planning process will push this back.
“Following dialogue with SBC planners, the SAS project team are in the process of providing additional information in relation to landscaping and, as such, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this stage.”
An SAS spokesman said: “We looked at all the options available and the site chosen in the planning application was the preferred choice.”
Leaderdale and Melrose councillor Jim Torrance believes the need for a new ambulance station outweighs any concerns surrounding impact on the iconic Eildon Hills.
He said: “We need a new ambulance station with the new Roxburgh Street surgery being built on the current Galashiels station site.
“It makes sense to put the new station at the BGH and I don’t see the effect it would have on the view of the Eildons.
“This station is badly needed because of the problems for ambulances getting through Galashiels at present. Surely reaching people in an emergency outweighs any scenic arguments.”
TheSouthern also understands that paramedics are concerned that the notorious BGH junction with the A68 could become an accident blackspot with increased number of ambulances using the road.
Councillor Torrance added: “I do think there are issues with the junction that need to be considered.”
As part of the Roxburgh Street surgery plans, an ambulance would be retained at the health centre to serve the western side of Galashiels and Clovenfords.