Here we go again, and in more ways than one. Within a couple of years of the great Melrose crematorium pantomime, another planning issue is set to take up a lot of time and money in 2013.
Although some of the more entrenched objectors to the crematorium plan will still be muttering away in the background, their Nimbyish views are more than cancelled out by the visually pleasing and socially valuable establishment that has proven its worth many times over in such a short time.
This time it is officialdom that appears to be standing in the way of constructing a new and up-to-date ambulance station next to Borders General Hospital.
In the mistaken belief that all Borders folk would welcome its plans to build a new station adjacent to the hospital, the Scottish Ambulance Service maybe thought it would be a fairly straightforward job – but they reckoned without the planners and objectors.
But first a little bit of history. Way back in the early 1970s the rookie cop who would eventually become The Pilgrim plodded his beat in beautiful downtown Galashiels.
Over a period of months, experienced cops showed him round all the wee nooks and crannies that make up any urban environment – and that included places where a little shelter and warmth could be found on winter nightshifts. Each beat, there were four in all, had its places and one of them was clearly every cop’s favourite.
A precarious walk down the slope to the rear of Chalmers McQueen’s Albert Place garage in the dark would bring you to the door of a modest wooden hut set back among the rows of cars. A chap on the door and in you went, straight into the company of Galashiels Ambulance Station and its band of stalwart nightshift drivers and a controller who provided cover over a wide area of the Borders.
It was basic, but very effective, and although in some ways to lurk within for a half-hour, thawing out feet and hands along with a mug of tea, might be viewed as skiving, the grateful cops were often first to learn of incidents at which they would soon have a presence. Jungle drums had nothing on us.
Time went by and after watching Ian Hardie’s timber crane pull over the last wall of the old Roxburgh Street School, a prime example of architectural vandalism if ever there was, a brand spanking new ambulance station rose from the rubble. In those days it was state-of-the-art, and the SAS was completely justified in its pride on opening day.
But time has passed on and a new one is now deemed essential. The chaotic traffic mess that is 21st-century Galashiels means serious delays in response times – and these days a failure to hit attendance-time targets is considered a grave offence, so a move out of town is an obvious factor.
Relocating to the BGH estate has almost universal acceptance, but with a few exceptions. Some say the entrance to the BGH is a problem. It is not perfect, but compared to threading your way through Galashiels to reach the open road, getting in and out of the BGH with an ambulance is a doss.
As ever, planners are the main sticking point, something of a puzzle given the best way to provide an approach to the BGH for all traffic would have been by a slip road accessed from the nearby roundabout, incorporated at the original planning of the place.
The Pilgrim is on record with an assertion that although difficult at times, the BGH access to the Melrose bypass would offer few problems to an experienced emergency service driver.
The best site for a new ambulance station at the BGH is obviously adjacent to the Melrose bypass, hopefully with its own dedicated access, little more than a matter of clearing away some of the tree screen, a move the landscape architect considers to be detrimental to the visual quality of the Eildon Hills National Scenic Area.
Well there you go, we learn that somewhere, somebody is concerned to protect our view of the Eildons, as if it was the only view that matters. The fact that the Eildon Hills are visible from all points of the Borders compass, and often from incredible distances, has got to be one of our greatest assets. Few could honestly dispute the need to preserve it as best we might, but to do so to the detriment of providing a valuable emergency service with a suitable location is another example of Clochmerle mentality.
Goodness knows, there are so many places where the vista of open country extending to the Eildons is ruined by housing blight – and dare one mention windmills – creating an imbalance of policy that confounds the reasoning of most people.
We pride ourselves on the beauty of our countryside, but as ever we should not be allowed to become too introverted in our beliefs.
With only a few exceptions, all of Scotland is a place of natural beauty and although it is easy to understand why just about any form of progress sets the objection ball rolling, we must also concede that we still have to live our lives within this picturesque landscape.
We need to provide and update our services as best we can, rather than allowing them to fall behind when compared to other places.
I suppose I should declare something of a vested interest in the matter of our ambulance service. Within the last month and several times over the last couple of years I have been a reluctant but grateful passenger in an ambulance, and cannot speak highly enough of the levels of professional competence of the men and women who man them.
Because of that and notwithstanding my love of the Borders scenery, anything that improves the lot of our ambulance service is going to get my vote – and if that means those passing along the Melrose bypass and other nearby roads having their gaze fall upon a bright new ambulance station near to the road, then so be it.
It will maybe serve as a reminder that there might well come a day when, like me, they have good reason to be thankful for it.
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Weather for Selkirk
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 7 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: South west