IT took Scottish Borders Council planning committee just 20 minutes on Monday to bring the curtain down on Lauder’s five-year health centre drama.
Councillors unanimously agreed to grant NHS Borders permission for the new facility on the site of a play park in Crofts Road.
“The project to give the town medical facilities which are fit for purpose began in 2007, so I wanted to be here to see if there would be a happy ending and I am naturally delighted,” observed former community council chairman Graeme Donald.
It will be a smaller, more compact building than the large L-shaped one which the committee endorsed for the same site in December 2010 when there were two medical practices in the town.
Since then, however, one of the surgeries has closed, placing more pressure on the remaining four-doctor clinic – an old nurse’s home at Factors Park to the south of the town.
It was also crucially discovered last year that the Crofts Road site was not in the ownership of SBC but was an asset of Lauder’s Common Good.
Although ownership is not a planning issue, that discovery added impetus to a protest campaign organised by the Protect Our Greenfield Site (POGS) group which believed, beyond its self-explanatory objective, that other, more suitable alternative sites should have been considered by NHS Borders.
The protesters were critical of SBC for selling off the old primary school site to a local housing association for affordable housing.
But last month, an NHS Borders referendum of adults registered with the Lauder practice showed that 83 per cent of the 1,442 people who voted wanted the health centre erected at Crofts Road. That result was cited by senior planning officer John Hayward on Monday as he recommended approval of the planning application, despite 88 letters of objection, the vast majority of which were pro forma missives organised by POGS.
The objectors rolled out a plethora of negatives over the choice of site, not least the inability of Crofts Road, a narrow one-way street, to cope with the traffic the new facility would generate.
This was countered by the results of a traffic survey conducted by SBC roads officials in Crofts Road between Monday, February 20, and Friday, February 24.
It showed that the average number of vehicles using the road between 7am and 7pm was 18 per hour and that the average speed was 20mph. In the peak hour, from 8 till 9am, there were 33 vehicle movements. The peak hour for pedestrians and cyclists was between 2.15 and 3.15pm when there were 19 children walking, eight children cycling and 39 adults walking.
“This survey clearly shows traffic volumes in Crofts Road to be relatively low and speeds consistent with the twenty’s plenty scheme in existence,” reported local planning officer Stuart Herkes.
The committee heard that the new car park at the centre would have capacity for 18 vehicles – five less than originally proposed – but that health centre staff would be encouraged to park elsewhere, either at the 24-space public car park at Allanbank Crescent or at the nearer 12-space site at Hardie’s Court. The new lay-out would also offer easy access and a turning circle for ambulances.
Councillor Nicholas Watson (Leaderdale and Melrose) said he was pleased with the new design which was less imposing and would not encroach on the public park. He reminded colleagues that SBC would be creating a much improved replacement play park which would be up and running before work began on the health centre, in June.
He was, however, concerned about visual impact of spring green-coloured smooth cladding panels on a largely timber-clad building.
Councillor Tom Weatherson (Kelso) said those old enough to remember when his town got its health centre would recall it raised a few eyebrows for its modern design.
“In a short time, everyone loved it and it won a range of awards,” said Mr Weatherson. “The Lauder design is similar and, as a public building, I think it should be distinctive.”
Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre said: “Umpteen communities in the Borders must be green with envy with what is happening in Lauder. Some may feel green panels are not acceptable and that can be discussed with NHS Borders, but it must not hold up this project.”
Councillor Donald Moffat (Mid Berwickshire) added: “The people of Lauder support this and so should we.”
After the meeting, SBC leader and Leaderdale and Melrose councillor David Parker expressed satisfaction with the decision.
“This is the last piece in the jigsaw and, later this month, the council will proceed with the new play park which will be completed before work begins on the health centre,” he told us.
He confirmed that a capital receipt of £250,000 from the sale of the land would be transferred to Lauder’s Common Good on July 1.