Thursday 17 October 2019

Minister expects no delay to Arklow or Greystones centres

Current developer does not intend to proceed with primary care centres

Mary Fogarty and Niamh O'Connor

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said that primary care centres planned for Greystones and Arklow should not be affected by plans by the developer to sell its portfolio.

His office made the statement after Cllr Jennifer Whitmore said that Action Health Enterprises, hired by the HSE to build them, had decided not to go ahead with the developments.

'Minister Harris has been in contact with the HSE... and has been advised that the HSE understands that the developer is seeking to sell its portfolio and that there is market interest in taking over the developments,' said a spokesperson for Mr Harris. 'This should not materially impact on the deliver of this important primary care infrastructure.'

Speaking on Friday, Mr Harris reiterated that he had just spoken to Martina Quelly, head of the HSE for Wicklow.

'She again confirmed to me today that both of these primary care centres will proceed and there won't be any material delay. That's the very clear view of the HSE nationally and locally, it's also my very clear view. The reason for that is, the Greystones centre is at planning design stage. The time it will take for this company to sell its portfolio, and it's expected to conclude by the end of the summer, will just allow the planning process to conclude for the Greystones one.' The planning is being done by the company in consultation with the HSE, he said.

'I understand that there is significant interest in purchasing the portfolio, so the HSE is very confident that they will be delivered and delivered on time.'

He said that it would be different if the construction was under way. Mr Harris said that the project is an operational lease model.

'A developer builds, them, maintains them for a period of time. The HSE pays a rent and after a number of years the HSE owns the building. In that sense, we're protected I would imagine from any sort of big shifts in cost,' he said.

Cllr Whitmore said that the people of Greystones and Arklow have waited 'years and years' for the PCCs.

'I understand that the Minister is satisfied that there will be no impact on the delivery of these facilities as a result of the withdrawal of the developer. I truly hope that is the case,' she said. 'However, there are questions to be asked as to why the current developers have decided to not to continue with the build, and how feasible it will be to find another developer to pick up that exact same project, particularly considering the increase in construction costs since the care centres were first tendered.'

'I'm totally disappointed,' said Cllr Pat Fitzgerald regarding the Arklow centre. 'It's another blow given the planning blows to the data centre and now the sewage treatment planning is also facing a two-month delay. It was going to be huge for Arklow, but I can't see it happening this year.

'They were originally talking about having it ready by the third quarter of this year but now they're putting their portfolio out for sale, which will involve legals and tendering all of which take time. I went to great lengths to get the developer last week and couldn't and then I was told there were issues. They rang to say they have decided to sell their portfolio. This was private funding which would have involved leasing the property back to the HSE,' said Cllr Fitzgerald.

Planning permission has been granted for the Arklow project, with the Greystones centre due to go for planning 'shortly',

However, Minister Harris said in August 2018 that the planning application for the Greystones centre was expected to be made before the end of the year.

The Arklow site is at the former Boland's builders providers, Castle Park, with the planned Greystones development adjacent to the Park and Ride car park.

'Whilst Action Health have decided to not develop its portfolio of PCCs in Wicklow, it is my understanding that another developer could essentially take over from where they have left off,' said Cllr Whitmore. 'However, it is now up to the HSE and the Minister for Health to act quickly to ensure that this can happen and that alternative developers for these premises are found. Any delay to the provision of primary healthcare for Greystones and Arklow must minimised as much as possible,' she said.

'This is further evidence that the model of delivery used by the Government to build state facilities, such as hospitals, schools and PCCs is seriously flawed. When projects such as this fail, it is the community that ultimately pays the price.'

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on health Stephen Donnelly has said he wants to know why he wasn't told earlier about any issues relating to the planned PCCs.

'Back in January, I became concerned that the Government's massive overspend on the new National Children's Hospital might have knock-on effects on other parts of our health service. I was so worried, in fact, that I submitted what's known as a Parliamentary Question to get an answer directly from the Health Minister,' said Deputy Donnelly.

'What I got in response was an email explaining that the planned Arklow Primary Care Centre wasn't being funded under the HSE's Capital Plan so it wouldn't be affected by the overspend. The letter failed to mention any other problems that could prevent the building from going ahead.'

He said he heard nothing further until last Thursday, when the HSE confirmed that the contractor hired for both centres had pulled out.

'What I want to know, therefore, is when did the HSE and the Health Minister become aware of that fact? When I received my PQ reply in January was this information being kept from me and my constituents?

'I believe the HSE is in the process of securing an alternative contractor,' said Deputy Donnelly. 'I want to personally meet with the firm who've pulled out and discover why. I've also written to the Minister to find out exactly when we can expect the new health centres to open. So far we know nothing except that the work has been delayed. It's grossly unfair to leave patients in the dark like this.'

Bray People