Legal challenge to Porthcawl medical centre?

Thursday, 7 July 2016

By Philip Irwin

in Health

A group of residents in Newton, Porthcawl, are close to finalising a legal challenge to the decision by Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) to grant planning permission for a new health centre next to a newly-built housing estate at Mallard’s Reach.

A lawyer specialising in planning law has been examining the process by which the health centre was passed by BCBC’s development control committee, and feels there are a number of grounds for a judicial review of the decision.

The new health centre will, in effect, move all Porthcawl’s medical services onto one site. The GP services at the Portway and on Victoria Avenue, plus a clinic based in South Road, will all be relocated.

Their legal advice points to a number of possible legal challenges, but the standout one is likely to be the decision by BCBC highways department to reduce the number of on-site parking spaces from over 100 to just 49 (with an extra 16 staff-only parking spaces off site).

The residents fear that those unable to find space will park on nearby streets, causing major traffic problems.

Spokesman Derek Gaynor told The GEM: “This was an extraordinary reduction, and no explanation for this change of mind has ever been offered.

“Our lawyer has been trying to get sight of the minutes of the meeting that took the decision to come down from over 100 spaces, to see how the reasoning changed, but we have not been able to see them.”

The group is conscious of the fact that there is a groundswell of support in Porthcawl for the plan, but they feel that there has been so much pressure to “make it happen” that it has simply not been looked at in the required detail.

Mr Gaynor said: “People in Porthcawl have been told that there is no other land available, and that the ABMU Local Health Board has been trying for ages to find some land, without success.

“This is palpably false. You only have to look at the existing Portway site, which is next to BCBC-owned land at Hillsboro Place. What they mean is that BCBC, for whatever reason, does not want to sell any of its land.”

The residents feel that the entire plan has not been discussed in the required detail, for whatever reason, and this could also be part of the judicial review.

Mr Gaynor said: “I am not aware of any councillor on the committee querying how the reduction in parking spaces came about. They didn’t want to rock the boat.

“They casually accepted an assurance that 20 staff-only spaces would be provided at The Globe Pub, about 400 yards away.

“No one asked how long the arrangement would last, what would happen if the situation changed after two or three years, or even why a pub company would commit to a long-term lease which might jeopardise some future plan.”

“That idea went wrong within a few weeks, and now the plan is to use a grass verge by the lake for 16 car parking spaces.”

Other areas where a judicial review could look at the process is the lack of discussion of how the medical centre will cope with the holiday-makers who need to see a doctor or get emergency medication.

At the moment, the many thousands who stay at Trecco Bay, plus guests at Porthcawl hotels and guest houses, come into town, and probably use Hillsboro Place car park.

When the Newton medical centre is up and running, it will be the only place, and it will mean more cars needing parking on the 49 spaces, and the issue of where people who can’t park will go, says the group, has simply not been discussed.

The group feel that the area simply cannot cope with on-street parking, which is why the number of on-site parking spaces is crucial.

Mr Gaynor said the group fully accepted that there had always been planning approval for commercial use. A car sales showroom had been a possibility, and using the existing plot for more houses makes sense too.

They also have concerns over the effect that moving the medical centre will have on Porthcawl’s town centre. At present, people collect prescriptions and a percentage will stay in and around John Street to shop or have a coffee.

However, the medical centre will have its own pharmacy, and it surely will be a sought-after location, with existing pharmacies in the town centre facing a drop in business.

The group wonder if the effect on the viability of town centre businesses has been fully considered.

Mr Gaynor said they had been concerned that the “clock was ticking” on the application, and they might miss the judicial review ‘’window’.

However, this turns out not to be the case, because the section 106 requirement about the off-site staff parking issue has yet to be finalised. The application is still pending, until that is clarified.

However, Mr Gaynor said that putting something in place to cover off-site staff parking would not explain why the parking space requirement fell from over 100 to 49 plus 16.

He added:?“They are trying to squeeze too much onto this site. Porthcawl’s population should continue to expand, and hopefully the summer tourist trade will stay solid or hopefully expand, but Porthcawl will have all its eggs in one basket.”

A spokesperson for ABMU?Health Board commented:?“We are unable to comment on the decision process or any legal challenge.

“The health board has spent the last 10 years looking for suitable land that is available for purchasing to build a new Primary Care Centre. We remain fully committed to providing the residents of Porthcawl with local healthcare services that meet their needs.”

A?spokesman for Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) said:?““The primary care centre is a highly significant community development, and we have worked closely with the applicants on the details in order to try and maximise the benefits for local people while minimising the likelihood of any potential future problems for residents, patients, staff or visitors.

“The applicant chose to focus on this site due to the urgent need to provide improved health facilities in Porthcawl.

“Alternative parking provision for staff and a contribution towards a bus service are currently being considered as part of the Section 106 agreement, so no decision notice will be issued until such time as this has been agreed.”

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