Decision delayed on new medical centre in Byfield after support from 400 residents brings meeting to a standstill

Hundreds of people were told they would not be able to fit into the building. Picture courtesy of Iain Osborne.
Hundreds of people were told they would not be able to fit into the building. Picture courtesy of Iain Osborne.

Residents brought a council meeting to standstill after turning out in force to demand that a new medical centre be built.

Roughly 400 members of the public from Byfield and the surrounding villages scored a minor victory, as Daventry District councillors decided to defer the plans until a later date rather than reject them as advised by officers.

The vast majority of the crowd stood outside for two hours during the debate last night (January 15) as the district council offices in Lodge Road were unable to cope with the demand. The meeting was delayed due to a health and safety issue, while neighbourhood sergeants were called to help keep the crowd levels under control.

Councillors were told that the existing medical centre would likely close unless the new centre was built due to demand outstripping capacity. Worried residents outside the meeting told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that if it closed they would have to travel to Banbury or Daventry to get an appointment. A petition supporting the scheme had attracted almost 1,900 signatures.

Dr Rob Harvey, a senior partner of the surgery, said: “It’s all about retaining a medical centre in a rural area. The current medical centre is not fit for purpose and we have 8,300 patients. If we cannot secure a new building the centre will close, meaning that all those people will have to access GP services elsewhere. The building has no room to put in more staff. We have told NHS England to temporarily not allow us to take on any new patients.”

The proposal for the land at Woodford Road would see 78 new homes built in order to enable and fund the development of the medical centre. But it is those homes which have proved a stumbling block for Daventry District Council, with their location and associated road problems proving of concern. It also cited a lack of detail explaining to what extent it would fund the new centre.

Artist's impressions of how the new medical centre in Byfield would look

Artist's impressions of how the new medical centre in Byfield would look

Planning officers stated: “The proposed housing would extend substantially beyond the confines of the village and impede open views into and out of the village with harm to heritage assets and the character of the village. This element of the proposal together with the new medical centre would result in significant impacts on the Woodford Road and Fiveways Junction which need to be mitigated and without which would have an unacceptable impact on highway safety.”

Officers had recommended refusing the scheme on that basis, but ultimately it was down to councillors to decide whether to green light the project – which has been in the pipelines since September 2017. In the end, they opted to defer making a decision until a later date.

Councillor Malcolm Longley said he could not see it as ‘anything other than a big opportunity for the village’ and said he was minded to support it.

But opinion was split. Councillor David James put forward a proposal to refuse the scheme, which was eventually voted down by councillors. He said: “It would be inconsistent to permit 78 houses when we turned previous applications down that were less intense developments.”

The existing medical centre cannot cope with the demand say staff

The existing medical centre cannot cope with the demand say staff

Councillor Ken Ritchie drew the ire of the public gallery when he questioned the ‘transparency’ of the deal. He commented: “Who is the developer behind it? Presumably it is not the doctors. There’s a lack of transparency about the whole deal. Why should the people of Byfield be told that they will get a medical centre, but only if we allow these people to make huge profits on building outside the village confines? I wouldn’t use the word ‘blackmail’ – but something about this stinks.”

Councillors eventually backed a proposal from Councillor Peter Matten to defer a decision until a later date, which would allow the council to gather more details about some of the proposals and consider any conditions which could be put in place that would allow them to recommend approval. The councillor also urged the applicants to come to an agreement with the highways department at the county council, which had objected to the scheme in its current guise.

It means that the 400 hardy residents who turned up to the meeting could well descend once again on the council offices at a later date.

Residents were told the meeting would be delayed due to a health and safety issue. Picture by James Averill

Residents were told the meeting would be delayed due to a health and safety issue. Picture by James Averill

More than half of the 400 residents who turned up had to wait outside during the two-hour debate. Picture courtesy of Kim Mahon.

More than half of the 400 residents who turned up had to wait outside during the two-hour debate. Picture courtesy of Kim Mahon.

Dr Rob Harvey, a senior partner at the medical centre, addresses councillors. Picture by James Averill

Dr Rob Harvey, a senior partner at the medical centre, addresses councillors. Picture by James Averill