Ambulance service attack SBC ahead of reporter’s BGH visit

SCOTTISH Borders Council’s stance towards a government body during an ambulance station application at Borders General Hospital has been fiercely attacked, writes Kenny Paterson.

Representatives for the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS), which is appealing SBC’s rejection of new facility at land north west of the hospital, have accused the authority of conceit by not taking into account Scottish Natural Heritage’s decision not to object to the plans.

SBC is also been accused of being dogmatic by refusing to accept response times would be quicker at the ambulance service’s identified site, rather than another location beside Huntlyburn House, also in the BGH’s grounds. A final decision is expected within weeks, as Scottish Government reporter Philip Hutchinson makes a site visit to the BGH on Tuesday.

Reiterating its position regarding SNH, an SBC spokesman told the reporter: “The council gave due weight to SNH’s view in its determination of the planning application, but was entitled not to consider it overriding.

“The principal reason for doing so was because of the extent of woodland screening that would be lost, the limited screening value of what would remain, and the resulting potential exposure of both the development and the hospital to views towards the Eildon Hills.

He added: “Relying on SNH’s comments to judge the planning application despite the council’s reasonable doubts about the screening value of the trees that would remain is simply not justified.”

But in a fiercely worded letter to Mr Hutchinson, Antony Duthie of planning consultants Clarendon wrote: “For the council to infer that SNH are not to be relied upon is a staggering assertion.”

He added: “The Scottish Ambulance Service are of the contention that SNH have indeed fulfilled their statutory obligations in the foregoing regard and that Scottish Borders Council did not afford all due credence to same,” Mr Duthie added.

“For the council to suggest that SNH’s opinion is not overriding belies the very purpose of statutory consultation if it is not respected or ignored simply if it does not accord with the council’s own landscape officer’s view.

“Such highlights our client’s suspicion that the council’s officers had a preconceived position without, to the contrary, giving supposed ‘due weight to SNH’s view’.”

Mr Duthie added: “It is considered conceited that the advice of a principal statutory consultee has been ignored.”

As part of its appeal, SAS said research had shown its application would increase the chances of patient survival by up to a fifth compared to SBC’s preferred location beside Huntlyburn House.

But an SBC spokesman wrote: “This council is not convinced that the appellant’s modelling of traffic times accounts for the fact that the application site is regularly affected by significant vehicle movements, particularly at peak periods, when traffic can back up toward the hospital car parks, as anyone who has visited the hospital will know.”

Mr Duthie replied: “Notwithstanding response times and landscape impact, Scottish Borders Council continue to labour under the misapprehension that other sites were indeed available to the Scottish Ambulance Service and have been dogmatic throughout the process on this front.”