THE need for a new health centre in Lauder is becoming “desperate”, according to Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker.
And he has asked that those opposed to siting the facility in what is currently a children’s play area on a small section of the town’s Public Park should now get behind the project.
In March we reported how plans by NHS Borders for a £2.1million health centre had been stalled because SBC had acknowledged the site was part of Lauder’s common good estate.
As the area has been used since 1929 for recreational purposes, it requires approval from the Court of Session for councillors, as trustees of the common good, to be allowed to sell the ground to the health authority for £250,000.
And a local campaign group POGS (Protect Our Greenfield Site), bolstered by a 678-signature petition, said it was prepared to fight any such application to the court, contending that the park’s continued use as an amenity area was “inalienable”.
Six months on and Mr Parker revealed this week his council was still discussing whether or not to go to court – a process which could take 18 months to resolve and could impact on NHS Borders’ future spending plans.
“SBC, the health authority and the community council all believe the play area is the best available option, but the only way the legal process could be speeded up would be for it to go unchallenged,” said Mr Parker.
When the common good revelation emerged, Lauder had two GP practices, but in June that became one with the closure of the surgery at the Memorial Medical Centre, quickly followed by the departure of a doctor from the practice at Factor’s Park, a converted nurse’s house, now run by Stow GP Dr Paul Cormie.
That took NHS Borders back to the drawing board and it has since come up with revised plans, as chief executive Calum Campbell explained: “With the reduction from two practices to one, the need for shared areas within the planned new health centre disappears.
“Therefore, the build will now be slightly smaller. However, there will be no reduction in the services the centre will provide to the community.”
And Mr Campbell added: “NHS Borders remains committed to delivering a purpose-built facility suitable for modern health care in Lauder.”
Mr Parker said the revised design would reduce the footprint on the play area and not encroach on the park, but he added: “The lack of GP facilities and the fact Factor’s Park is not really fit for purpose despite the best efforts of staff, means it is vital we find a solution to the land issues affecting delivery of a facility which the 3,000 people who live in and around Lauder deserve.
“Thus, the need to sort things out as quickly as possible is becoming desperate.”
He said SBC and NHS Borders were “actively working in partnership” to deliver the facility.
To that end, Mr Parker that another common good site had been identified – a rough grazing field opposite Calfward Park, just outside the burgh boundary on the road to Langshaw and known locally as the “piggery field”.
“From a common good perspective, it does not have the same legal issues and could be sold or developed for a health centre without the need for a Court of Session process,” said Mr Parker. “NHS Borders would have to get planning permission, making a special case to be allowed to build on a site outwith the settlement boundary, but that is not impossible.
“We are currently working to finalise our view on both sites and to get a design. We will then carry out detailed consultation with the community in Lauder during November and December.
“We are very hopeful we will be able to confirm before Christmas how the project will be taken forward.”
A spokesman for POGs said his group was preparing a dossier to submit to the Court of Session if and when SBC lodges an application to sell the public park land.
“Our position has not changed ... we support improved health facilities but not on this site,” he added.
Graham Donald, spearheading the health centre project on behalf of Lauderdale Community Council, said enough time had been wasted in the wrangle over the public park, not least because even better play area facilities would be created under the joint SBC/NHS scheme.
“I fear that, before long, NHS Borders will come under pressure to send the Lauder funding elsewhere,” he added.