THE long-awaited redevelopment of the Steeple park site is taking a step closer after proposals for a ‘health village’ in Antrim town were unveiled.
Apricot Health Ltd, which is already behind the new health centre in Ballyclare, has a vision for a multi-disciplinary, GP-led and designed facility in the footprint of a car park beside the existing Civic Centre, meaning that none of the historic parkland will be lost.
The floorspace of the centre could stretch to 150k square feet, creating up to 400 jobs and representing an investment of around £15m.
The development would be fully integrated with other health-based regeneration projects within the park, including new foot and cycle paths, and will have a magnificent view of Antrim’s famous Round Tower (see image below).
Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council also announced this week that the restoration of Steeple House, which was destroyed by fire in 2019, will commence shortly, with the original stable block being converted into a flexible exhibition area, workshop and cafe.
‘The Steeple’ will be rebuilt, becoming a community space for meetings and special events. The Mayor’s Parlour will be located there too.
With budgets stretched to the limit by austerity cuts and covid and health boards and trusts finding themselves unable to commit to large capital projects, private companies like Apricot Health are stepping into the breach.
But this is a scheme very much with the local community at its’ heart.
The firm is led by Seamus Reid of Reid Black Solicitors, which has an office in Antrim. He said that the centre in his home town of Ballyclare is his ‘legacy project’.
The centre is becoming a template for developing modern facilities for under-pressure GP practices across the province.
Mr Reid, who’s father ran a bar in the town, also sponsors local soccer side the Comrades and has a keen interest in regeneration projects throughout the borough.
And he has hinted that the proposed health village in Antrim could be twice the size of the building in Ballyclare.
Garrett Duffy, Development Director with Apricot, said that there are hopes that services at both Antrim Area Hospital and under-pressure health centres and surgeries can be ‘decanted’ into the Steeple facility, taking the strain from existing community and acute healthcare providers.
The vision is for a fit-for-purpose, modern and integrated delivery of healthcare under one roof - with patients being referred down a corridor in a matter of moments rather than waiting weeks for an appointment halfway across the country.
It is hoped that there will also be a focus on mental health and wellbeing as well as physical health - with the relaxing parkland setting a huge bonus.
With local residents now assured that the 17-acre Steeple parkland will no longer be under threat of housing development, Apricot are keen to receive feedback from the community.
Mr Reid said that he hopes that if and when the proposals go through the planning process, work could begin as soon as this time next year.
“The plans are conceptual at this stage and obviously subject to planning but we want feedback from local people,” he said.
“This is a collaborative effort and we have undergone a lot of consultation.
“I am from the borough and we want to deliver projects which benefit the people of the borough.
“We all know what pressure the acute services at Antrim Area Hospital are under, we all know that GPs are struggling to see their patients in buildings which are many decades out of date and not fit for purpose.
“This health village offers an opportunity to move some of those services to a new location, with better facilities, much more space, both inside and out, handier to public transport.”
Mr Duffy said that the project had the potential to centralise a lot of services rather than GPs having to send clients long distances with weeks of waiting for treatment from the likes of physiotherapy or other specialist.
“We do see this as the future of healthcare and health centres,” he said.
“This project offers something really exciting and beneficial for everyone.”