Developers' King's Hall proposal will lead to largest healthcare hub of its kind in north
BILLED as the largest healthcare facility of its kind in Northern Ireland, the proposed Benmore bid has been in the pipeline for over two years.
A planning application was first submitted to Belfast City Council last December to transform the listed King's Hall venue into a GP health centre for south Belfast.
In addition, there are proposals for a care home, hotel and 30 apartments.
However, the heart of the plan is the GP centre.
Benmore have already been in talks with doctors from surgeries in Finaghy and Dunluce Avenue about a move to the site, due to the poor state of their existing premises.
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The Irish News understands that a number of doctors have contacted the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) - the body that reimburses the rent of privately owned GP premises - about a relocation.
The board has stressed it has no links to the project, referring to it as "privately led" and said it cannot fund any additional costs should GPs agree to a move.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph two years ago, the former chief executive of the HSCB, John Compton, described the King's Hall project as being in line with NHS reform projects such as the Bengoa report
Mr Compton has a key adviser to the private scheme and is a non-executive member of Benmore.
"This is the sort of change that people want to see," he said.
However, a member of a the board's local commissioning group (LCG) last night questioned the idea of centralising GP services in an affluent suburb.
SDLP councillor Tim Attwood raised concerns about those living in poorer pockets of south Belfast who cannot afford to use buses to travel to see a doctor.
"If GP services are based at the King's Hall, will it meet the needs of those living in places such as Sandy Row, which has a surgery used by some of the most disadvantaged people in Belfast," he said.
Mr Attwood said he was also aware of the rent being raised at the Sandy Row GP practice in line with a new tenancy agreement - which he described as a "major source of concern".
Earlier this month, Belfast City Council deferred a decision on the first phase of the Benmore application, with its planning committee set to carry out a site visit.