Solicitor behind proposal to build £5m healthcare centre in Ballyclare
A private developer has submitted a bid to build a £5m community healthcare facility in Ballyclare.
The proposed four-storey building, next to Ballyclare Comrades' football grounds, could become the new location for the town's GP practice within two to three years.
It's the latest private sector-led healthcare project here, though this week approval of a plan to turn the King's Hall into a £100m health hub was deferred by Belfast City Council.
The developer behind the Ballyclare project is solicitor Seamus Reid, who believes the plan could become a template for developing modern facilities for under-pressure GP practices across the province.
The proposal is understood to have political support, including from MP Paul Girvan, MLAs and councillors.
Ballyclare Ulster Unionist councillor Vera McWilliam, who also supports the plan, described the building currently used by the town's GP practice as outdated.
Mr Reid said the planned 45,000 sq ft development was designed around the needs of GPs, with the hope that the Northern Trust and private healthcare providers would relocate there.
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It's understood an option has been left open for Ballyclare's three pharmacies to move into the site if they wish. Mr Reid said it could cater for up to 16,000 people in the area.
His company, Apricot Health Ltd, is also believed to be looking at locations for similar health developments, including in Antrim, Limavady and Belfast. He said there was interest in the project from GP practices across the province.
The Northern Trust, which rents space in the existing Ballyclare Health Centre, said it was aware of the project but had not been involved in its design or specification. Services offered by the trust in the current building include midwifery, dietary care and speech therapy.
A spokesperson said: "While the trust currently rents space at the existing Ballyclare Health Centre, any decision to rent space within the proposed facility would be subject to the ongoing requirements in that area and an options appraisal to consider the best means to meet those requirements."
GP practices in Northern Ireland are funded by the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB)but run as independent small businesses.
The average funding that GP practices receive per patient annually is approximately £100.
According to the HSCB, there are currently 336 practices in Northern Ireland, with six closing and 14 practices merging in the past six years.
Mr Reid said while his development would seek to be profitable, it would be "contained within fair limits".
The project may be handed back into public ownership after a period of 25 years.
"My father ran a bar in Ballyclare, I grew up in Ballyclare, I still sponsor the Comrades. This is about a legacy thing for me. This isn't about anything other than trying to help the town," said Mr Reid.
"Ballyclare has really suffered during the recession. We've lost bank branches. This will be regenerative.
"It's to centralise all the health services in the area and allow easy access. In that, I believe there will be an economic spin-off for the whole town."
Cllr McWilliam said the prospect of a new health centre had been circulating for years but had been held up because of the lack of a suitable site.
"This would absolutely lift Ballyclare. You only have to look at the plans to see this will be fantastic," she added.