Lauder community meeting halted as fall-out over health centre vote refuses to settle

A COMMUNITY council meeting in Lauder was brought to a premature end amid acrimonious scenes on Monday night as the row over the town’s new health centre continued to simmer.

After less than half an hour, Lauderdale Community Council chairman Alistair Smith’s gavel sounded the end of proceedings following repeated interruptions from the public benches by Gus Gilder, one of the main players in the POGS (Protect Our Greenfield Site) action group which had campaigned vigorously against plans by NHS Borders to build the facility on a play park at Crofts Road – land which is part of Lauder’s common good assets.

“The meeting, in my judgement, could not continue with Mr Gilder refusing to be quiet,” explained Mr Smith. “He had been asked several times by others to desist from his interruptions, but refused, and in the end I lost patience with what I considered a display of bad manners, not conducive to the measured discussion of items on our agenda,” he added.

Community councillors had been discussing ongoing traffic problems in Crofts Road, the narrow one-way street which will provide access to the new health centre, when Mr Smith called a halt.

The perceived inadequacy of the street to service a health centre was one of several reasons cited by POGS in the run-up to a referendum which produced an overwhelming majority in favour of the NHS proposal when the votes were counted in the Public Hall on Friday.

In the preceding fortnight, 2,217 ballot papers had been issued to all adults registered at the town’s only GP practice: the cramped four-doctor surgery in a former nurse’s house at Factor’s Park to the south of the town.

There was a turnout of 1,442, or 65 per cent, and in answer to the question: “Do you support the proposal by NHS Borders to build a new health centre in Crofts Road?”, 1,193 of those balloted voted yes and 242 voted no – an 83 per cent endorsement.

The result, announced by returning officer Dr Paul Cormie, was greeted with applause by most of the 50 or so members of the public who watched the count which was carried out by a 10-strong team of election staff from Scottish Borders Council.

NHS Borders chief executive Calum Campbell said: “We have remained committed to delivering a purpose-built facility suitable for modern health care in Lauder and had an obligation to abide by the results of the ballot.

“I am thrilled with the yes vote, which means we can finally progress with the building of the health centre and have it open by the summer of 2013.”

SBC leader and Leaderdale and Melrose councillor David Parker told us: “I’m delighted with the outcome which means the council can now proceed to build a new children’s play park which will be bigger, safer and better equipped than any other in the Borders.”

Mr Parker revealed this week that the contract for work to begin on the play park had been signed off by SBC on Monday and work would commence next month, with completion scheduled for June.

But Mr Gilder poured scorn on both the health centre proposal and the vote.

“I know of at least three local families who did not receive ballot papers, yet people from as far afield as Galashiels, not to mention places like Oxton, Blainslie and Earlston, were allowed to vote on the future of what we consider prime amenity land which is the legacy of townsfolk and townsfolk alone,” he told TheSouthern.

“The vote should never have been organised and run by two parties [NHS Borders and SBC] with such a clear vested interest in the outcome. There was also the explicit threat that if people had voted no, the town would not have got improved medical facilities which was a disgrace and clearly skewed the result.”

Asked to explain his behaviour on Monday night Mr Gilder said: “Month in and month out, the community council hears about the traffic problems in Crofts Road and, on Monday, we heard how an articulated lorry had blocked the road, that vehicles were still travelling the wrong way and there were more calls for the police to step up enforcement.

“I had not intended to disrupt the meeting which is, after all, a forum for local opinion, but the irony of yet further discussion on the problems of a road which we all know is inadequate even before a health centre is plonked there, was too much for me to remain silent.”

Mr Smith said there was no question of Mr Gilder being banned from future community council meetings and the February meeting was being rearranged for either tonight or next Tuesday.

Lauder homes get go-ahead – page 12