Article in The Courier on 14/01/2022 by Graham Brown
A bombshell knockback has been given to Brechin campaigners in their six-year journey to turn the town’s former infirmary into a community health hub.
The Scottish Government has rejected Brechin Healthcare Group’s appeal against a Tayside Health Board refusal of a Community Asset Transfer (CAT) of the site.
It’s a major blow to the group who are now considering their next move.
They already provide a range of valuable local services from the Jenner Centre in the heart of the town.
But the charity’s ambition was to create a community hub offering a range of health and wellbeing services and activities.
Their plans include a global garden, training programmes and a range of opportunities around social prescribing.
And BHG chairman Grahame Lockhart said the pandemic had highlighted more than ever the need for a facility like the one they hoped to create.
“We are bitterly disappointed,” he said.
“It boils down to a Catch-22 for BHG.
“We have funders waiting in the wings and they are very enthusiastic about the project.
“But we can’t get that funding until we actually have the building.”
The journey so far
NHS Tayside declared the 153-year-old infirmary surplus to requirements in 2018.
By that time BHG had already been in existence for three years following concerns over local healthcare provision.
BHG developed a business case and made a £150,000 CAT application to NHS Tayside.
The health authority had concerns about the deliverability and sustainability of the project.
And it believed the group’s offer was well below the three-and-a-half acre site’s value.
NHS Tayside Board say the infirmary is worth £400k as it stands, or £675k as a clear development site.
The group the appealed the matter to Scottish Ministers under the 2015 Community Empowerment Act.
Case reporter Paul Cockette sides with BHG on the size of their offer.
He said: “The community benefit elements comprise in my view benefits which are proportionate to the value of the property and level of discount sought.
But the reporter said there were too many unanswered funding questions.
“It appears to me that the appellants are heavily reliant on uncertain funding streams materialising or the goodwill of others.
“And, especially in the early years, on their hope that no significant deterioration occurs or no further essential maintenance needs arise.”
He said BHG had failed to show the “viability, sustainability and funding for their proposals in order to meet the requirements of the statutory framework for a community asset transfer”.
Mr Lockhart said: “After spending six years on this we are now in a very difficult situation.
“We have the Jenner Centre in the former Santander Bank premises in Brechin.
“And while it is doing amazing stuff it is just not suitable for the long term.
“We had looked at other sites in Brechin for the health and wellbeing hub.
“But none offered the accommodation and space to deliver the wide range of services and opportunities of the Infirmary site.
“Those opportunities included employment, work experience and therapeutic horticulture for those struggling with mental health issues.
“The Jenner Centre will continue.
“But as we only have a short lease on the premises we need to consider its future.
“We will be meeting as a group to consider what we do next and the options for the future.”