PLANNING officials have revealed they warned the Scottish Ambulance Service against submitting an application for a new station at a site at Borders General Hospital.
The bid at land north west of the hospital – entitled site A – was thrown out by Monday’s planning committee after councillors agreed that it would lead to the removal of important woodland as well as concerns over road access to the A6091 Melrose Bypass.
The refusal means Galashiels’ new £1.8million Roxburgh Street health centre – due to expand onto the current ambulance depot in 2013/14 – is likely to face delays.
But Scottish Borders Council’s planning officer John Hayward told Monday’s meeting: “Advice was clearly given by officers (to SAS) that site A should be discounted.
“It is extremely regrettable that this applicant did not take that advice.”
The SAS had previously ruled out five other possible station locations in the BGH estate, claiming site A provided the quickest response times.
But principal roads planning officer Derek Inglis said their figures were inconclusive and claimed site F – at land beside Huntlyburn House – would provide on average faster times.
He added: “When the road is quiet, vehicles can get to the bypass junction from site A in 14 seconds and 30 seconds from site F. However, this road is fairly heavily trafficked a lot of the time.
“Site F is a more straightforward route to the bypass.”
Councillors voted 8-3 in favour of refusing the SAS application and many were shocked the NHS emergency service had not heeded SBC officers’ advice.
Selkirkshire councillor and Conservative leader at Newtown, Michelle Ballantyne, said: “I am very surprised the applicant chose site A.
“It is much easier access from site F to the bypass with few traffic jams.
“I would not like to see trees being removed for a station, as would happen at site A. It is important the trees are retained. Research shows that visual greenery outside hospital windows improve recovery times of patients.”
However, Tweeddale West representative Nathaniel Buckingham was one of those to support the application.
He told us: “Whilst there are lots of things that planning officers and committee members are best placed to make judgements on, I’m still not convinced that ambulance response times is one of those that we should overrule the experts.”
Alastair Cranston, Hawick and Denholm member, agreed. He added: “If someone is in the back of ambulance with a broken leg, do you really think they will be discussing the view of the Eildon Hills with the paramedic?
“This is such a vital service for the Borders, if the ambulance service want to put it there then I think we should support it.”
In a statement, an SAS spokesman told TheSouthern: “We are disappointed that the plans have been rejected as we believe that a new station on that site would improve local response times and provide appropriate modern facilities for staff.
“Every aspect of the local environment was considered when drawing up the plans. We will review the council’s decision before deciding the next course of action.”
An NHS Borders spokeswoman said it had not yet had official confirmation that the ambulance station application had been refused. “However, if this is the case, we would be disappointed and hope that SAS and SBC can come together to reach an agreement on the way forward,” she 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 pushes this back.”
Galashiels ambulance station needs to move in order to improve its record of attending life threatening calls.