TRANSPORT Authorities Raise Concerns Over New Health Centre's 'Difficult Location'

INVERCLYDE'S planners have dismissed suggestions made by experts who think there should be transport improvements included if a multi-million pound healthcare facility in Greenock is to get the go-ahead.

Transport authorities have raised concerns saying Wellington Street is a difficult location for people with mobility problems. Councillors are due to decide next week on whether the development should get planning permission. Inverclyde planners are recommending approval.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde want to build the four-storey facility on the former Wellington Academy site to replace Greenock Health Centre in Duncan Street and several other health facilities.

Experts from the council's roads service and Strathclyde Partnership For Transport have highlighted problems with the site's accessibility and have urged measures to try and ease the problem, such as a shuttle bus. However planning officials say health authorities should not be forced to make transport improvements.

Strathclyde Partnership For Transport's response regarding the project states: "The proposed building is not in a very accessible location to public transport and the steepness of footways in the vicinity do not provide a satisfactory environment for people with mobility difficulties. It is the view of SPT that the applicant over-states the accessibility of the site and potential for a significant sustainable travel mode share.

"Bus services on Wellington Street are limited to a daytime service and the steepness of the footways will deter use of services on Regent Street. "Funding should be identified by the applicant to support the re-routing and/or bespoke provision of bus services. The existing bus stop on Wellington Street should be improved. Infrastructure should include a shelter with power, a bus stop flag and raised kerbs.

"To promote active travel and the use of existing public transport services, public information screens highlighting active travel routes and live public transport departures (including Greenock Central rail station, Regent Street and Wellington Street bus stops) should be provided at key locations in the centre as well as way-finding signage within and outwith the building. These provisions should be a condition of any planning consent."

The statement continues: "SPT is concerned by the seeming lack of analysis that has been undertaken in relation to existing patient travel patterns and requests that a condition is attached to any planning permission requiring provision of sustainable travel information to patients prior to the relocation and on the opening of the new facility."

Inverclyde Council's Head of Environmental and Commercial Services state: "There is a shortage in car parking provision of 38 spaces, although it is acknowledged that the applicant has identified on-street parking opportunities on streets surrounding the site. Whilst this is not ideal it is a significant improvement on the existing nearby health centre.

"Only one bus service directly passes the site and public transport is therefore a less attractive option, making it difficult for some visitors to access the facilities. Although other bus services on Regent Street and Roxburgh Street are nearby the topography could be difficult for some patients.

"The applicant should provide a free shuttle bus service to and from the new development from rail and bus stations. This will also help address concerns over the lowered parking provision. If it is not achievable, the applicant should work with the existing bus operator to try to secure an increase in bus frequency of the existing service. "It is recommended that the bus stop on Wellington Street be subject to an upgrade, including a shelter and raised kerbs.

"Prior to occupancy a Travel Plan shall be submitted which should consider (but not be limited to) how people will travel to the site, existing public transport provision (including as assessment of spare capacity on existing services), identify if additional services are required and whether a bus shuttle service is required to the bus station or if the existing bus service can be accommodated."

In a report to councillors, Stuart Jamieson, Head of Regeneration and Planning, responds by saying that guidelines regarding planning conditions indicate that they need to be used in a manner which is "fair, reasonable and practicable and do not place unreasonable or unjustified burdens on applicants."

Conditions should only be used where they are "necessary, relevant to planning, relevant to the development to be permitted, enforceable, precise, and reasonable in all other respects."

Mr Jamieson states: "Whilst I appreciate the concerns behind their requests, I consider that the Head of Environmental and Commercial Services’ and SPT’s requests that conditions be used to secure alterations to bus stops and other infrastructure which are remote from the application site and on land not within the applicant’s control, and to re-direct or upgrade public transport, or to provide a bespoke bus service, are neither reasonable nor enforceable.

"I also note the request for a condition in respect of the provision of information of sustainable travel information to patients but again have concerns over the enforceability of such a condition. I am satisfied that patients will be fully aware of the relocation of their health services through their own GP's or dentist's advice and therefore also question the necessity of such a condition.

"Ultimately a balance has to be made between this and the benefits to the wider population offered by the proposed new facility. In view of the overall social and economic benefits of the proposal it is my overall conclusion on this particular matter that, whilst noting the concerns over sustainable access, these do not merit refusal of the proposal."

The new centre will accommodate four GP practices; dental, podiatry and physiotherapy services; a sexual health clinic; district nursing, health visiting, school nursing and home care teams, child and adolescent mental health services; speech and language therapy; out–patient clinics; and outreach acute clinics.

Two car parks are to be provided. A 129-space car park within the eastern part of the former school building site, and a 93-space car park across Wellington Street on the former football pitch.

Inverclyde Planning Board is expected to consider the application on Wednesday 6 June.

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