Berwick health and leisure investment plans approved

Couns Cath Homer and Peter Jackson outside the Swan Centre.
Couns Cath Homer and Peter Jackson outside the Swan Centre.

Plans for a new leisure facility – co-located with a new hospital on the site of the current Swan Centre – have been given the final go-ahead by Northumberland County Council leaders.

This landmark decision to re-develop the leisure centre gives the green light to an integrated development which will see over £45million invested in the town.

The new development – which will see all services on the current sites retained – represents the very latest thinking by linking treating illness with preventing it in the first place.

Similar health and wellbeing integration has already been tried in other areas of the country with great success.

The final step in the approval process came as the County Council’s Cabinet approved an £20million leisure centre at the Swan Centre site.

Jim Mackey, chief executive at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: “Needless to say we are delighted that the plans have been approved and we can now get on with building what will be a fantastic facility for all Berwick residents.

“This represents the biggest investment ever made in the town and the funds that have been secured to deliver the new hospital is a huge statement of intent in the current climate, which demonstrates our commitment to bring something truly special to Berwick.

“The new hospital will retain all the current services the Infirmary has now; including an inpatient ward, maternity care and a 24 hour a day minor injuries unit. Additionally, there will be the outpatient clinics which enable over 16,000 appointments a year to be carried out in Berwick.

“It’s been a longer road than I – or anyone else – would have liked but we are now in the right place and I have every confidence that the new hospital will be as loved by the community as the current Infirmary has been.

“The future is all about integration and working closely with our colleagues in the council and the CCG to ensure that the services provided in the town are fit for the future.”

The Swan Centre – built in the early 90’s – is increasingly showing its age and needs significant investment to bring it up to modern standards. Detailed design work is pending but it has already been agreed that it will include state of the art pool and sports facilities, as well as access to playing pitches.

County council leader Peter Jackson said: “We’re delighted to formally progress this flagship project for Berwick and Northumberland which will bring significant investment to the town.

“The next stage is to develop detailed designs for the new leisure centre, and we’re determined this is progressed as soon as possible with state-of-the-art facilities.

“By integrating a community hospital with leisure facilities, people will have easier access to the sports centre and therefore are more likely to use it. This will ultimately benefit overall health and wellbeing, leading to healthier lifestyles.”

The decision to go ahead with the development comes after an extensive engagement process. In the next phase, further consultation work will be done so the community has a chance to help shape the design and development of the new integrated facility.

Janet Guy, chairman of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group said: “We’re delighted with today’s decision and are looking forward to seeing Berwick lead the way in the provision of integrated health and wellbeing services.

“The co-location of health and leisure will enable local people to have easy access to the services they need to stay active and healthy and will allow healthcare services to focus more on overall health and prevention.

“We recognise the local community has mixed feelings about an integrated development from our engagement exercise this summer, but would like to reassure them that we will continue to work with them to ensure the new facility will meet their needs.

“We feel there are real opportunities for local people to help shape the design and development of this new integrated facility and make sure it will be fit for the future.”

Once the new hospital is fully up and running the current site of the Infirmary will be redeveloped.

No firm plans are in place but early indications are that it will be transformed into a social care facility providing a much needed space for supported living near the heart of the town.