Ensuring GP infrastructure is there to support new homes

Six areas of Northumberland which have seen large numbers of new homes approved recently have been highlighted as requiring an expansion of GP and other healthcare facilities.

By Ben O'Connell
Tuesday, 22 January, 2019, 16:03
Alnwick is one of the areas highlighted as needing additional health infrastructure given the increase in housing in the town in recent years.

Northumberland County Council planning officers made a presentation to last Thursday’s (January 17) meeting of the health and wellbeing board about the healthcare implications of the final draft of the Local Plan, as they did at the July meeting in relation to the first draft.

There are a number of policies in the document which deal with or touch on health and wellbeing elements, including one to limit the number of hot-food takeaways, but one of the main concerns remains around healthcare infrastructure.

The development framework is supported by an almost 200-page Infrastructure Delivery Plan, which aims to ensure new housing is supported by the necessary services.

It refers to a number of areas which ‘have already seen multiple, large-scale planning applications for housing in recent years’ and which ‘will require increased capacity in primary-care infrastructure’.

These are: Amble/Broomhill; Ashington/Newbiggin; Bedlington/Guidepost; Cramlington; Morpeth/Pegswood; Alnwick.

The plan adds: ‘Beyond these settlements, levels of planned housing development in settlements including Ponteland, Prudhoe and Blyth are likely to require increased healthcare infrastructure capacity.’

Siobhan Brown, the chief operating officer of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We’re really keen for the infrastructure to match the development and workforce. I would like to offer reassurance that we are keen to develop the infrastructure to match the new homes.”

Jane Lothian, a GP and medical secretary for Northumberland LMC (local medical committee), raised concerns about small developments in rural areas which may not trigger infrastructure contributions, but would still put pressure on services in that locality.

Senior planning manager Joan Sanderson explained that the Infrastructure Delivery Plan is a living document and will be updated as and when it’s required.

One of the main changes with a bearing on health and wellbeing from the first draft is that enhanced standards of accessibility and adaptability in new homes have had to be dropped, in line with new guidance in the Government’s refreshed National Planning Policy Framework which places importance on the plan’s overall impact on viability.

David Thompson, chairman of Healthwatch Northumberland, who previously called for the policies around providing suitable homes for older people to have ‘more teeth’, questioned whether this was a risk for the future, given the county’s ageing population and rurality.

Coun Veronica Jones, the cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: “Sitting alongside this is the council’s Extra Care and Supported Housing Strategy, which is a big programme. We are aware of the need, particularly in rural areas.”

Planning officer Steve Robson added: “While it’s regrettable we haven’t been able to bring these standards forward, in the plan as a whole there are policies to deal with that wider issue.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service