A SEVEN-FIGURE fund was announced for a new health centre but four years later, the site earmarked for the project still stands empty and money will now need to be ‘secured again’ after serious delays. HELENA VESTY reports on the £6.8 million project that is yet to materialise.

A FUND of £6.8 million to build a new health centre was first granted by the NHS four years ago, but leaders of the project now say they are having to ‘reapply’ for funding after a string of delays amid complaints ‘concerning management’.

In 2015, three GP practices came on board a collaborative project to create Horwich Health and Wellbeing Hub.

The health hub was billed as an ‘innovative, flagship project’, bringing together Bolton Community Practice, Pike View GP Practice and Kildonan House Practice, alongside health and social care services, in a state-of-the-art building.

The NHS granted the plans preliminary funding to the tune of £6.8 million in 2016, with the GP practices also committing to contribute towards the centre.

Dr Anne Talbot, the clinical director of Bolton Community Practice, is leading the project. When plans for the health centre began to surface in September of 2016, Dr Talbot said: “The idea in principle is that the new centre will be a combination of health and social services.

“But the movement of them is yet to be decided.”

She said that the following six months would involve intensive planning and ‘a full business case put together by NHS Bolton and Bolton CCG’.

But over the course of the years following, the plans have been plagued with problems and delays.

Frustrations among Horwich residents and councillors are running increasingly high, with demands for answers as to why no building has started on the proposed Victoria Road site.

In 2018, councillors urged designs to be brought out for the long-awaited centre and in September of that year, it was revealed that Kildonan House had pulled out of the project.

Initial designs for a two GP practice health hub were then presented at last year’s Horwich and Blackrod Area Forum meeting.

But a year on, concerns were again raised at the 2019 area forum meeting, held two weeks ago.

The questions were answered by Councillor Susan Baines, the executive member for health and wellbeing on Bolton Council. She complained of sharing the same ‘frustrations’ as the residents, adding that she was chasing answers from the NHS.

Cllr Baines then later admitted that she was concerned that after four years, the grant money would no longer be available. She told The Bolton News: “The people of Horwich were led to believe that a new health hub would be built on the site next to the new Leisure Centre. This was over four years ago when the previous Labour administration were in control of Bolton Council.

“We as a relatively new administration now find we have inherited this issue and are absolutely frustrated about its lack of progress.

“We are deeply concerned by the delay and how this has been managed. We feel that it has not been dealt with properly. We wish to expedite and move the development forward but need the NHS and the CCG to move also and now find that funding once again has to be secured.

“The residents of Horwich were assured by the previous administration that their voices would be heard – this has not happened to date.

“We are working very closely with all concerned as a new health centre is needed, especially when we consider the increasing population in Horwich due to the Rivington Chase Development and others in and around Horwich and Blackrod.

“As Executive Cabinet Lead for Health and Wellbeing, I and my party are absolutely committed to getting this sorted.”

She added: “It’s been such a long time that the funding is probably an issue.”

But Dr Talbot says that the £6.8 million grant was ‘always dependent’ on the designs for the centre and the success of a full business case review.

Dr Talbot said that the team had to do extensive redesigns and new costings in the past year after Kildonan House dropped out of the project, difficulties compounded by funding delays. But she said the group were now finally ready to put forward a full business case.

She said: “The initial grant was four years ago. Things change over time, the cost has changed The grant was always dependent on a successful business case.

“We are presenting a business case in the next few weeks and we’re hoping for a positive outcome.”

A spokesman for Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership said: “We fully support the vision to develop a health and wellbeing hub at Horwich, linked to the recently completed new build leisure centre, and we have been working with Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group and the GP practices involved to achieve this.

“Capital funding to support the scheme was provisionally allocated for use in 2017/18, with the remaining cost to be met by the GP practices.

“However, the scheme has been the subject of considerable delay.

“A significant change to the scheme was confirmed in May this year to accommodate two GP practices, rather than the three first planned.

“This means the building has had to be redesigned, the costs have changed and therefore the funding application and business case have also had to be revised.

“Bolton CCG and Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership continue to support the GP practices in their plans and we are supporting them in developing a final business case to submit to NHS England in the next few months.”

Project linked to leisure centre

THE work on the proposed health centre in Horwich was supposed to run in tandem with plans for the new leisure centre.

The two projects have each had their own problems, says one local councillor.

Horwich’s old leisure centre was knocked down and a new one, worth £10 million, built.

The leisure centre has been up and running for over a year, but the plot of land opposite the leisure centre, set aside for the health hub, still stands empty.

Planning applications have yet to be put in for the health centre but town planners who have been working on the project, Turner and Townsend, said: “The scheme is progressing toward a planning application which will most likely be issued before Christmas.”

Town councillor Steven Chadwick spoke of the history of what he feels is a problem site in Victoria Road: “The plan proposed was to remove the old leisure centre car park and build a new leisure centre in its place, then knock down the old leisure centre and put a new car park there.

“The remainder of the site would be for the planned health centre.

“We were told the leisure centre had to be rebuilt because of the health centre plans, now it seems like there was no rush.

“It’s the residents nearby that are bearing the brunt of this.

“It feels that Horwich has been sold a bit of a dummy.

“We asked at the time what would happen if the health centre never happened and it was dismissed as scaremongering.

“We were promised a bigger and better leisure centre and now it’s smaller, there’s no squash courts and we have had years of parking issues.

“The light at the end of the tunnel was this health centre and now they have to look at funding again.

“Some would say I’m being pessimistic, some would say I’m being realistic. Horwich has been promised a new GP practice for the best part of ten years — you wonder if it will ever happen.”