Ballot row as Lauderdale prepares to vote over health centre site

CAMPAIGNERS opposed to a new health centre being sited on part of Lauder’s public park in Crofts Road have poured scorn on a referendum, details of which were revealed this week by NHS Borders.

The postal ballot paper will ask the 2,300 adults registered with the town’s medical practice if they support a new £1.7million facility at that location on land in the ownership of the Royal Burgh’s common good.

If the majority vote yes, then the project can proceed in the next financial year, provided planning consent, lodged last week with Scottish Borders Council, is granted. But if the dissenters win the day, the health centre will not be built and the funding will be lost.

Voting papers will be sent out on Monday, January 23, and must be returned, using a pre-paid envelope, by February 9 at 6pm.

Completed papers can also be put in a ballot box in the town’s only GP surgery at Factors Park.

The count, overseen by the electoral team from SBC, will take place in the public hall on Friday, February 10, with local GP Dr Paul Cormie acting as returning officer.

It was confirmed this week that everyone over 18 and registered with the practice will be eligible to vote, including those living in the neighbouring communities of Oxton, Blainslie and Earlston.

“What is proposed is perfectly fair and reasonable in that the patients who will use the facility are getting the final say,” said David Parker, leader of SBC, which last month agreed to sell the site to NHS Borders for £250,000. “This is an extremely favourable return for the area of land being lost and I would argue its use for this purpose is entirely in keeping with what the common good is all about.

“In return, the common good will receive free of charge from SBC an area of land five times the size of the health centre site, while a new larger, safer and signficantly better equipped children’s play area will be provided in the park to replace the exisiting one. Once all costs and works are funded, the common good will have an additional £100,000 for its funds.”

But Allan Alexander, chairman of the POGs (Protect Our Greenfield Site) group, told us: “We have no issue with the fact a new health centre will be for the people of Lauderdale, but the common good ground is Lauder’s and Lauder’s alone.

“Under this referendum people from outside the town boundaries will be allowed to vote and that is like the residents of Lauder being asked to vote on issues such as the crematorium in Melrose [also in the Lauderdale and Melrose ward of SBC].

“Would the people of Jedburgh, Selkirk or Hawick accept having people from other towns voting on what happens to their common good ground? We don’t think so.

“If the patients of Lauderdale are allowed to vote on our play park becoming a building site, they should also be asked to vote on Crofts Road – a safe route to school – being upgraded to cope with the huge increase of traffic which will result, or at the very least be asked to vote on a traffic survey.

“There are also issues of rights of way being swallowed up to make way for extra car parking for both the play park and health centre and this will effectively block off vehicle access for several residential properties. These issues should have been aired and resolved long before this so-called referendum.”

NHS Borders was last year given planning application by SBC for the site, but downgraded the scale of the development after a second town surgery – the Memorial – closed down and revised plans have now been submitted.

“The fact that the footprint of this building is less than the original means alternative town centre sites could easily have been secured,” said Mr Alexander.

And he claimed the true barometer of local feeling in Lauder came in 2010 when, out of 765 people who returned a POGS questionnaire, 678 said they did not agree that a health centre should be sited at Crofts Road