A campaign group has urged a U-turn on plans to potentially sell land around Sudbury Health Centre, for fears it will damage the town’s ability to respond to future healthcare needs.
The Sudbury Watch (Working and Acting Together for Community Health) group said it is alarmed and disappointed, after the West Suffolk Hospital NHS Foundation Trust confirmed it is looking at redevelopment options for the Churchfield Road site.
Although the land around the health centre is currently unused, the Watch group said the community had been under the impression it would be retained for future expansion of the centre, to meet the needs of the growing local population, particularly elderly people.
The land was put forward for Babergh District Council’s draft local plan as a potential location development – although the council said there would be a further consultation period before any part of the plan is finalised.
But the Watch group says the land’s inclusion in the draft plan could “open an enormous door and incentive for its disposal”.
Nigel Bennett, chairman of Sudbury Watch, said: “We are alarmed that West Suffolk Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is apparently taking steps, which will enable it to sell land set aside for future healthcare facilities in Sudbury.
“There has been no consultation, despite an assurance from the trust that this would take place.
“It is, on the face of it, a course which will be detrimental to Sudbury.
“First, the trust has already sold three health care sites in Sudbury – Walnuttree Hospital, St Leonard’s Hospital and Harp Close Meadow – on the understanding that the Churchfield Road site, as a whole, would be reserved for health care.
“Now it seems that even part of this site is to be sacrificed to Sudbury’s detriment.
“Second, the course being pursued does not appear to be based on a longer term health needs analysis of the Sudbury area, and seems, in any case, contrary to national NHS policy of taking pressure off acute hospitals.
“We call on the trust to change course and, at the very least, to consult and to communicate openly and transparently about its intentions and its reasoning.”
In response, the trust said the expense of maintaining surplus land meant it had to consider these options and insisted it had consulted with local people on the matter, adding that money from any sale could be reinvested.
Craig Black, director of resources at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We’re grateful to Sudbury Watch for raising their concerns. We value their input and feedback as a community group.
“As per our local plan, which has been in place since 2012, following public consultation about four sites in Sudbury which were surplus to NHS requirement, at which Sudbury Watch was represented, we are now exploring planning application options for the Churchfield Road site.
“The NHS has a duty to look at how to make its land and buildings work better as, unfortunately, unused land costs the trust money to hold and maintain.
“Selling or generating income from surplus property that is not being used for patient care creates funds that we can invest to improve healthcare services.
“This is in line with government targets, reinforced by the publication of the Naylor review earlier this year.
“Any capital receipt from the sale of sites is reinvested into meeting the healthcare needs of people living in the communities served by West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.”