Anger as new town centre site for Lauder health centre is ‘ruled out’

THE need for a new health centre in Lauder is not in doubt – but its location remains a major bone of contention in the royal burgh.

Last week, Scottish Borders Council instructed its top officials and the town’s three local councillors to “agree and conclude” the sale of a greenfield site at Crofts Road – part of the Public Park and owned by the town’s common good – to NHS Borders for £250,000.

Out of that sum will come £180,000 for a new play area on land currently owned by SBC to replace the one that will be lost, with the common good fund pocketing the balance.

But given the controversy surrounding the loss of high amenity land, a postal ballot referendum will be held in the new year.

And the group set up to fight the choice of location – Protect Our Green Field Site (POGS) – is confident people of the town and its surrounding area, who are currently served by a single GP practice at Factors Park, will reject the Crofts Road option.

“We have said before that if the vote gives a clear mandate for our Public Park to be decimated in this way, then we will cease our campaign,” admitted POGS chairman Allan Alexander.

But this week, he described as “absolutely scandalous” the manner in which an alternative town centre site has been dismissed by both council and NHS Borders.

For it has emerged that local businessman Andy McCord, who owns the building which houses a grocery, a pharmacy and an estate agents, has offered an undeveloped half-acre field to the rear in Castle Wynd as an alternative health centre location.

In an email to Mr Alexander, council leader and Melrose and Lauderdale councillor David Parker explained why the offer had been rejected.

“I would advise that NHS Borders and SBC have carefully considered this site and have ruled it out. The site is viewed as being uneconomical to take forward; a number of leases need to be broken and the costs of acquiring and converting the site for use for a health centre would be significant,” wrote Mr Parker.

He claimed the Castle Wynd site’s “legal complexities” meant development would not be possible during 2012/13 as NHS Borders only had funding for the health centre in that financial year.

“It is also the case that the buildings in question are listed buildings and there are a number of planning and roads issues that would be extremely difficult to overcome.”

Mr McCord this week responded angrily, revealing the site had been offered in August “in an attempt to break the impasse that has gripped our community”.

Mr McCord said no leased or listed buildings were included as part of the suggested site, so Mr Parker’s argument over the need to wait for the conclusion of leases lasting longer than 2013 was “simply not true”.

He went on: “The offered site is brownfield, fully serviced and behind the three tenanted buildings. It has access from both Market Square and Castle Wynd ... and building could begin almost immediately once the field is cleared.

“Although ‘extensive consultation’ may have taken place, it was not with the owners. In addition, no price for the purchase of this alternative site was ever offered, requested or discussed, so we are more than a little surprised to learn it is ‘too expensive’. The extent of the misrepresentation with regard to our site makes us wonder whether it was actually ever considered seriously.”

Mr Parker told us: “SBC has assessed Mr McCord’s offer from a planning and roads perspective and NHS has carried out a detailed review and evaluation and the site simply does not stack up for a health centre.

“It is not big enough for a health centre and associated parking while, in addition, numerous owners have tried to develop the rear of their properties onto Castle Wynd and these have been routinely refused by our own planning department and the Scottish Government’s reporters unit because of road access problems.”

Mr Parker confirmed the GP practice would write to all its patients in January asking, in a postal ballot, if they support the development of the Crofts Road site.

“The ballot will be run under proper election guiance and will be supported by SBC’s election staff,” said Mr Parker. “There will be an open public count in Lauder Public Hall in early February.”