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Crunch decision over future of Norwich’s Timber Hill walk-in centre

A decision will be made this week on the future of the Timber Hill Health Centre.

A decision will be made this week on the future of the Timber Hill Health Centre.

©Archant Photographic 2010

A crunch decision on whether Norwich’s walk-in centre should be moved to make way for a new restaurant quarter is two days away, with councillors urged to agree the controversial change.

While thousands of people have signed a petition calling for the Timber Hill Health Centre to remain in Castle Mall, Norwich City Council officers said on planning grounds there was no reason to refuse the application to move it.

And business bosses said the plan to put restaurants where the centre is currently based would be a huge boost for the city centre.

The lease for the £2m walk-in centre, which opened in July 2009, has not been renewed and is due to run out in September.

While Castle Mall landlords InfraRed have offered to provide another site in the mall, health bosses said it was not practicable.

There has been huge support for the health centre, which treats 78,000 patients a year and has 8,000 patients registered for the GP services offered there.

But, at a meeting on Thursday, city councillors will make decisions on two applications which will decide its fate.

One of the applications is for a restaurant quarter on level four, which would evict the health centre. The second application is to move the health centre to a larger empty shop unit - between the post office and the 99p Stores on level two.

Norwich Practices Ltd. which operates the centre, said it did not want to move there because of the refit costs and NHS bosses are still in negotiations about the possibility of a walk-in centre opening elsewhere in the city centre.

They have submitted three petitions against the move - an on-line petition of about 400 names, a petition from patients containing about 1,800 names and a further group of 45 patient names. The petitions call for the centre bosses to renew the lease.

In a letter sent to the council, Dr Hitesh Payel, chairman of Norwich Practices Ltd, wrote: “The number of patients using the walk-in centre increases every year and based on our own and central government surveys, we estimate that this year alone the centre has kept at least 15,000 people - an average of about 40 per day - out of already over-stretched accident and emergency services at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.”

He added: “Planning is a balancing exercise, and whilst there are clearly merits in revamping a tired shopping centre in the city centre, clearly the balance has to rest with keeping the health centre in place, allowing the people of Norwich to access the medical facilities they need without having to drive to them and ensuring the continued care of members of the public in the most suitable location available for them.”

There have also been eight letters of support, including from the Norwich Business Improvement District, the manager of Castle Mall and the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce.

They said the investment will create 120 new jobs, with the new restaurants helping to boost the economy in the city centre.

Stefan Gurney, executive director of the Norwich Business Improvement District, said: “This change of use from retail and health centre to a true destination that increases the choice of good quality, affordable places to sit down, relax and eat is welcome, boosting both the daytime and evening economy.”

The committee will make its decisions when it meets at City Hall at 9.30am on Thursday.

• Do you have a health story? Call Adam Gretton on 01603 772419 or email adam.gretton@archant.co.uk

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