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Open Day on Proposed Relocation of Wincanton Health Centre

Thursday 20 May 2010, 15:20
By John Baxter


On Monday, May 10th in the Memorial Hall Sun Lounge Janet Loe, Wincanton Health Centre Practice Manager and Neil Niblett the architect set themselves up with maps, architectural drawings, documents and all their files and proceeded to be open and available to anyone who wanted to come in and question them about the plans for the proposed new Health Centre. They could not have been more approachable and straightforward, answering any of the many questions the seventy-five visitors asked them in as much detail as anyone wanted.

Artists rendition of the new health centre

I spent over two hours both questioning myself and listening to the very thoughtful and challenging questions visitors brought. In the end, not entirely happily but certain it is the right thing to do, I signed the petition Janet had organised which you could sign to show you agreed with the plan to relocate the Health Centre at New Barnes. Why? I think this is best answered by an examination of the maps and drawings they had on show.


Sites that have been considered for the new Health Centre 

This map shows that for several years Neil Niblett, as the architect employed by the practice, has been examining potential sites for a new Health Centre. Why was this being done? Because it has been clear for years that two things have been happening. More people are coming to live here as more homes are built and more people who live here are getting older. This means we need more medical services. Also medical advances mean GPs can and should offer a wider range of services to their patients where they live, so sparing patients the need to trek into Yeovil for minor yet vital treatments.


Armed then with the knowledge of what is needed for such a specialist building as a new health centre, Neil Niblett went to work. He had been carefully briefed and had studied what accommodation, facilities, parking and community access are required to fulfil our needs for at least the next 25 years. He then systematically set about investigating each of 22 sites in and around Wincanton, and in the end he decided that the only one that could work at the present time is the New Barnes site.


Note that qualification "at the present time." As the report he has produced and was handing out shows, several sites have looked promising, but in the end a landowner or property developer was not prepared to sell. Again as you can see from the map, these sites are dotted all around Wincanton. One site however stands out. It is the one many people think, and I am inclined to agree with them, could have been chosen, and if it had would have been best, if not from a purely "medical" point of view, then from the point of view of the good of the town. That was the existing Health Centre redeveloped to incorporate the former police station.

Neil Nibblett argued that this would have been relatively expensive and not ideal – his paper lists all the disadvantages that would have had to be overcome. Certainly it would have involved the addition of another level to the building and it might not have been quite big enough. The police station however, was owned ultimately by the County Council and apparently the officer responsible for selling it announced suddenly and without warning to those involved in planning a new Health Centre, that it had been sold. This decision removed the rebuild option and was taken some two years ago. Since then Neil Niblett's focus has been on planning for a new Health Centre on the New Barnes Estate.


Past, present and future sites

This map shows the site of the present Health Centre, the proposed new Health Centre and the New Barnes development plan – all in cheerful yellow. Neil Niblett describes the site in the following way.

"This site forms part of the New Barnes Farm development and is between the new housing and existing industrial/business area. The site is available, affordable, large enough for immediate needs and large enough for future expansion. The site is on land designated for business/community use within the local plans and as it is integrated within the housing development, it offers a natural buffer zone between residential and business use."

He goes on to claim that it will "benefit from new and improved pedestrian links to the town centre." The disadvantages of the site he acknowledges are: "Possible location – only to a few."

The layout of the new Health Center

What a pity he does not admit this is so obviously not the case. First let us remember the fact, not marked on these maps, that planning permission is going ahead for the building of a hotel and a pub/restaurant on the land just by the turn off from the A303. Second there is the designation of space for retail shop sites on the New Barnes site (one could be for a pharmacy). Third there is the enormous success of Morrisons (which many would agree is an excellent supermarket) and of Lidl (also regarded by many to be a good store). Both of these however probably have a negative effect on High Street shops. These developments then are all in the same area, so it is pretty obvious what this does to the historic centre of the town. It sucks out of it a great deal of commercial, medical and inevitably community activity. It will result in fewer people coming into the historic town centre and will further threaten High Street shops, pubs and places to eat. Fewer people will meet each other in the street and in the shops and the town's sense of identity will be weakened.

Commercial properties planned to be nearby

Of course at present some 40% of patients who are on the books of the medical practice live outside Wincanton and the number who actually walk to the present centre is a minority. Given the new location, that minority will almost certainly be even smaller. Better options for those without cars will be badly needed.


I think the answer is simple. We all need a new Health Centre. We need and will benefit from a wider range of treatments. If we do not go ahead and support this new initiative, given the tough economic times ahead of us, we could lose it and as far as access to the NHS find ourselves substantially worse off in the years ahead.

This is now also the opinion of the Town Council who voted on the evening of the 10th May to reverse their previous decision and are now recommending to the District Council that the planning application be approved. So I suggest you sign the petition or express your opinion by writing to the Window or to Adrian Noon, Planning Officer, South Somerset District Council Brymton Way, Yeovil BA20 2HT to say that you want this plan for a new Health Centre to go ahead. The next step which could be taken in the next couple of weeks will be taken by SSDC to decide if it will give planning permission for this scheme. It seems to me vital we get it. Do you agree?


Artist renditions of external views

Revised ground floor plan

Revised upper floor plan


Posts: 1
New Health Centre Opinion
Reply #1 on : Thu May 20, 2010, 19:04:23
There have been some very coherent arguments put forward for the new Health Centre to be located at the New Barns development. Indeed, it’s difficult to find many logical arguments against it. It does, indeed, seem to be the best place for the new building.

But that’s as far as it goes in my view. As far as the bricks and mortar is concerned, it’s perfect. What about the patients though? And what about the life-blood of our town centre?

The article comments that many patients are already resident outside of Wincanton and for those it will make little difference whether they drive into the town centre or just outside of it. True enough. But the article also acknowledges that the population of Wincanton is aging and that trend is likely to continue. Following that logic then, isn’t it also true to predict that we are likely to have a growing proportion of pedestrian patients who no longer drive? Serious consideration needs to be given to transport links for this group of residents. This can't be an afterthought, but an integral part of the planning for the new Health Centre.

With regards to having a pharmacy on site, I envisage a no-win situation: the impact on the two existing pharmacies in the town centre would be considerable, but not to have one would involve a long trek (all uphill) for that same group of elderly pedestrian residents as they trudge back into town for their prescriptions and then, finally, back home.

My last comment relates to the lifespan of any new Health Centre building. I don’t know what the future holds for the existing building after it is vacated. It was built at great expense (for the time) and just thirty years later is no longer fit for purpose. It’s not long really, is it? A Health Centre for the next twenty-five years? I don’t consider this an acceptable lifespan for any building. The new Health Centre MUST be “future-proofed” as much as possible. Let’s be absolutely sure we’re not in the same situation in the year 2035.

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