Doubt over £9m Wednesbury health centre progress

Fresh doubt has today emerged over a new £9 million health centre planned for Wednesbury, after it emerged the full planning application for the scheme has been withdrawn.

Malling Health centre
Malling Health centre

The long-awaited scheme in High Bullen was due to provide new facilities for users of two GP surgeries in the town, Malling Health and The Spires, which were due to be incorporated into a new building.

Malling Health closed last month.

But today it emerged that the full planning application for the scheme has been withdrawn from the council.

New plans would have to be submitted if the scheme were to make progress.

NHS England has previously said it is 'committed in principle' to the scheme but it is not yet known when it would be funded.

Councillor Ian Jones, the authority's regeneration chief, dubbed the situation a 'shambles'.

He said: "It's a shambles. When the PCTs were abolished, it left a black hole in funding, which we knew about.

"At the moment though, there is no tangible planning application for a health centre despite repeated assurances to the council.

"We've been strung along for more than 10 years on this. I'm no longer confident new plans are coming."

Ward Councillor Elaine Costigan discovered today the planning application had been withdrawn.

She said: "I can't believe it. Why on earth would they do that?

"Wednesbury residents need this to happen as soon as possible.

"The people of this town need dates and a time scale to be confirmed when this will be built as promised."

The scheme has been long in the pipeline and was originally dubbed the '2010 project' because of the date it was due to be completed.

The Malling Health closed on April 11 this year, forcing around 2,500 patients to relocate, because the centre was not built to relocate that surgery yet.

NHS England decided not to extend the practice's original five-year contract.

The full planning application was passed unanimously by the council's planning committee early last year, in what was then thought to bring it one step closer to reality.

Today, the authority confirmed plans had been withdrawn, after more than £19,000 had been spent on their submission.

John Baker, the council's development and regulatory services manager, said: "Sandwell Council received £6,365 on January 12 2012. This covered the applicant's outline fees.

"A full application, which has now been withdrawn, was received on November 1 2012. This cost the applicant £12,730. These fees are set by the government nationally for all planning applications. "

Bosses at the cash-strapped council have said they cannot bank land indefinitely for the benefit of the NHS, if no progress is due to be made on schemes.

Malling Health was originally given a five-year contract, which was due to expire by the time it should have relocated to the new health centre.

A petition with more than 800 signatures calling for the surgery to remain open was delivered to Parliament in March this year, but that could not prevent its closure.