COUNCILLORS have vetoed the site of a new quick-response ambulance station – because it would involve chopping down trees.
Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) chiefs picked a site for the new station because it would shave precious seconds off response times to emergency calls.
But Scottish Borders Council rejected the traffic claims and warned the loss of trees would spoil views currently enjoyed by hospital patients.
Ambulance chiefs were advised to build their new station in another part of Melrose and then rapped on the knuckles for ignoring the advice of planners.
But the decision was met with incredulity by some councillors.
Alastair Cranston raged: “If someone is in the back of ambulance with a broken leg, do you really think they will be discussing the view with the paramedic?”
The ambulance service has been praised by the Scottish Government for cutting response times to 999 calls over the past year.
A new ambulance station is needed in the Scottish Borders because its current site in Galashiels is being taken over for a new £1.8m health centre.
The SAS picked an area of woodland close to the Borders General Hospital – dubbed site A – saying it would provide the quickest access to major roads.
But principal roads planning officer, Derek Inglis, told a council meeting this week he was “disappointed” the ambulance service had applied to build the station on site A.
He claimed another site in the town would provide a faster response time.
Senior Tory councillor Michelle Ballantyne added: “I would not like to see trees being removed for a station, as would happen at site A.
“It is important the trees are retained. Research shows that visual greenery outside hospital windows improve recovery times of patients.”
Councillors then voted eight to three to reject ambulance chiefs’ plans.
Nathaniel Buckingham, councillor for Tweeddale West, was shocked that his colleagues voted to turn down the application.
He said: “Whilst there are lots of things that planning officers and committee members are best placed to make judgements on, I’m still not convinced that ambulance response times is one of those that we should overrule the experts.”
“This is such a vital service for the Borders, if the ambulance service want to put it there then I think we should support it.”
A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesman, said: “We are disappointed that the plans have been rejected as we believe that a new station on that site would improve local response times and provide appropriate modern facilities for staff.
“Every aspect of the local environment was considered when drawing up the plans. We will review the council’s decision before deciding the next course of action.”
The ambulance service has proved in recent months that it is able to improve its response times.
Figures released in August showed that the service dealt with around 630,000 emergency incidents between April 1 2011 and March 31 2012, taking an average 6 mins 42 secs to respond, 12 seconds quicker than in the previous year.
In the same period, paramedics treated more patients at the scene, 57,997 cases, instead of taking them to hospital.
An NHS Borders spokeswoman said it was still waiting for official confirmation that the ambulance station application had been refused.
“However, if this is the case, we would be disappointed and hope that SAS and SBC can come together to reach an agreement on the way forward,” she said.
“The SAS ambulance station at the BGH needs to be built before the redevelopment of the [Galashiels] Street site can commence. Any delay in the planning process pushes this back”
Margaret Watt, chairwoman of Scotland Patients Association, said: “I would have thought that patient’s health is paramount, I’m sure it would be possible to uproot the trees and to re-plant them elsewhere.
“If the ambulance service perceives that this is the best spot for the depot then I am inclined to believe them.
“The ambulance service has done a terrific job in cutting response time, and if they can cut it even further by creating this new site then all the better. They work very hard and sometimes it’s difficult for them to keep their response times low.
“So if it’s going to make a difference to the patients then I can’t understand why the council are not asking the forestry commission to take down the trees and replant them somewhere else.”