ALTHOUGH being described as “pig ugly”, a new £2.7million health centre for Lauder was approved on Monday.
It may not be a thing of beauty, but Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee voted 6-5 to back the project which will unite the town’s two existing medical practices and serve more than 3,000 patients in Lauder, Oxton, Blainslie and Westruther.
Despite the venture having the support of GPs and Lauderdale Community Council, the choice of site – on the public park at Crofts Road – was opposed by many townsfolk.
Indeed, after NHS Borders submitted its planning application, 165 letters of objections were received.
And an action group named POGS (Protect our Greenfield Site) was set up. It organised 155 of the pro forma dissenting letters and conducted a survey of 765 townsfolk, asking if they agreed the health centre should be built on the site of a children’s play park.
Some 678 people responded in the negative.
But on Monday it was not the location, but the design, of the new facility that concentrated the minds of councillors.
It was local member Nicholas Watson (Leaderdale and Melrose) who led the criticism of the building: a largely single-storey L-shaped structure with a two-storey linking element in the corner.
The predominant colour scheme was revealed on slides to be beige and lime green.
Mr Watson said he had no problem with the choice of site. Neither did he quibble with the larger replacement play area, the design of which had incorporated the ideas of pupils from the town’s new primary school nearby, nor the erection of floodlights for an all-weather sports training pitch which SBC itself was proposing.
He even commended an outline proposal for a new changing pavilion.
But he baulked at the health centre design.
“The new school has a grace and style sadly lacking in the health centre, which resembles an assortment of tarted-up portacabins,” said Mr Watson.
“This is simply not good enough for Lauder ... serving a municipal purpose doesn’t justify a pig ugly building.
“NHS Borders are lucky to get this prime site and should have treated it with more respect.”
His motion to refuse consent and send the architects back to the drawing board was supported by Councillor John Mitchell who averred: “I know NHS Borders has to consider costs, but this building does Lauder no favours at all.”
But Councillor Jim Fullarton spoke, as it turned out, for the majority of the committee when he told of the “fantastic facilities” the centre would offer with patient-focused services on the first floor and a double-height waiting area.
“Everything today is about cost, but it looks to me as if the modernist Bauhaus design fits in quite well with the new school building.”
After the vote, NHS Borders chief executive Calum Campbell told us: “We are delighted the plans have been approved. This will provide a modern purpose-built facility suitable for a modern health care and allow expansion and development of local health services which will benefit the Lauder community for generations to come.”
He said the design of the health centre had been kept low to complement the new school and minimise its impact on the parkland setting.
The decision was welcomed at Monday night’s meeting of Lauderdale Community Council.
“It’s been a long time coming because we have been discussing the siting of a new health centre for the past five years,” said chairman Graeme Donald.
“Our only concern now is that, given the public spending restrictions, it won’t be delivered.”
However, a spokesperson for NHS Borders told us: “Although we have to ensure every scheme meets our affordability criteria, NHS has received [Scottish Government] support to take forward three health centre schemes [Lauder, Galashiels and Jedburgh] over the next two financial years.”