Arntz site is ‘shovel ready’ for Health Hub

An image from a video showing how the Medical Hub might look on site. (McGurran Associates Limited)
An image from a video showing how the Medical Hub might look on site. (McGurran Associates Limited)

The owners of the Arntz site in Derry have said they are ‘shovel ready’ to begin work on a new cityside health hub if the Western Trust agree to develop the ‘much-needed’ facility for Derry’s cityside.

A spokesperson for Arntz Belting Ltd and the developers told the Journal they had met with the Western Trust and gave a presentation on their proposals to lease the large medical complex building to them back in 2015.

The Arntz Belting factory site at Pennyburn which has been earmarked for a major redevelopment. (1611MM7)

The Arntz Belting factory site at Pennyburn which has been earmarked for a major redevelopment. (1611MM7)

Planning permission was granted or the project in February this year, but on the same day it emerged that the Trust had formally expressed interest in developing a primary health care hub in nearby Fort George.

Fort George was handed back by the Ministry of Defence back in the early 2000s for the benefit of local people.

The Arntz developers pointed out that no planning permission has been granted or lodged for a medical centre there. The Western Trust however has said they are still developing their proposals for the former army base.

While a range of other proposals were received during a market test, including a widely backed plan to transform Fort George into a major tourist hub with an iconic Maritime Museum complex at its heart, the Department for Communities opted to give the Trust a year to progress its idea for a health hub.

A spokesperson for the Arntz site said they “fail to understand why we are sitting with planning approval” and the Trust and health officials aren’t running with the same model used everywhere else in Northern Ireland.

“This would be in line with all other health hubs developed recently around Northern Ireland.

“We gave them a presentation in 2015 and they said they could not commit, but that this was in the right area for what they wanted to deliver,” he said., adding: “This is 400 metres away from the Fort George site, and it can be funded, built and leased back to the Trust. We are shovel ready and we have planning approval. The town is crying out for a health facility and this can be delivered quickly - all we want is an agreement with the Trust.

“We are ready to go and this is a 15 acre site, larger than Fort George, with planning approval for a health facility in line with what they want, and if they want additional plots apart from this building we can make that available as well.”

The Arntz site development was four and a half years in the planning, and the plans have taken into account the Transforming Your Care models of best practice and plans to dual the entire length of the Buncrana Road.

Full planning permission was granted by Derry & Strabane’s Planning Committee back in February for an NHS Medical Hub housing GPs and Practice Nurses, Community Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists and Home Help/ Support Staff. The plans for the site also include a foodstore unit, a restaurant, self-service petrol station and extensive parking facilities. A revised scheme to deal with road related issues deemed acceptable by the Department for Infrastructure.

The porject would lead to the creation of over 300 jobs once it is built and a further 200 to 300 more construction jobs.

Planners have said the project “would secure a location for a much needed and desired concentration of community health and social care services”.

However shortly afterwards, it was confirmed that the Department for Communities and the Western Trust had entered into an agreement to enable the Trust to further develop a proposal to locate a new Cityside Health and Care Centre at Fort George. That agreement, which is in place until early 2020, was to give the Trust time to get the necessary business case approvals and funding confirmed. The move followed an Expression of Interest exercise undertaken by DfC to test the appetite for investment in the Fort George site, which attracted 11 expressions of interest.

A spokesperson for the Western Trust told the Journal this week: “The Western Trust can confirm that as part of the business case development process for the provision of a major city side health and care centre, it has been engaged in the identification of a site suitable for the purposes of bringing together GP and associated healthcare services in an integrated model.

“This has identified Fort George as the recommended likely site deemed suitable for future service provision within the city. The Trust and Department for Communities (site owners) have entered into a joint Memorandum of Understanding allowing the Trust to progress the completion of the business case and to secure the necessary Department of Health and Department of Finance approvals.”