There were heated scenes at County Hall this week as Lewes district councillors heard from both sides on plans to bring a new health hub to Seaford.
The debate took place during a full council meeting on Wednesday (September 25), as part of the council’s response to a major petition calling for a halt to plans to build a new health hub at the Downs Leisure Centre in Sutton Road.
During the meeting, councillors heard from representatives of both campaigners against the plans and from those who support it, including Dr Dan Elliott of Seaford Medical Practice.
Speaking on behalf of residents who oppose the scheme, Karen Hall of the Downs Development Neighbourhood Voice (DDNV) group told council members she feared the project would have a drastic impact on the town.
She said: “It is important to stress that we all want the best possible health care facilities for Seaford.
“However, this proposal is a threat to the vitality of our town centre while the loss of vital public recreation grounds would be a detriment to the environment and our health.”
These views, Ms Hall said, were shared by many Seaford residents including the 4,294 who signed a petition opposing the proposals.
As part of her argument, Ms Hall said residents feared the impact on Seaford’s town centre should Seaford Medical Practice and Old School Surgery move out of their current premises, as it would lead to a drop in footfall.
She also argued the development would lead to major traffic issues in the area and lead to the loss of the last free public recreation ground in that area of town.
Ms Hall said: “There is nowhere in the town this shortfall or loss can be mitigated or found. Seaford simply cannot afford to give this away.
“The Downs Leisure Centre [site] is simply not viable. It is the wrong site.”
According to Dr Elliot, however, no other suitable sites are available in the town and that continuing as is could lead to one or both of the GP practices leaving the town instead.
By moving to a health hub, Dr Elliot said, the surgeries could extend their range of services and opening hours as well as ensure there was capacity for a growing population.
He said: “In summary, the GPs of Seaford fully support the Downs health hub proposal. We see it as an exciting development, which would truly enhance and consolidate GP services.
“This will make them fit for the future and capable of maintaining and improving upon the excellent care they already offer and the residents of Seaford deserve.
“Conversely if the scheme does not go ahead as planned, then it could be the beginning of the end of GP services in Seaford.”
Wave Leisure CEO Duncan Kerr also spoke in support of the scheme, saying the proximity to GPs in the health hub would provide better opportunities for physical therapy and other treatments.
Both Mr Kerr and Dr Elliot were met with a fairly hostile reception from the crowd, however, with people in the public gallery booing and hissing after they spoke.
Councillors themselves did not take part in a full debate, however, with many arguing they should wait for the recommendations of a scrutiny review panel tasked with looking at the details of the scheme.
The group, which was set up in June, is set to report its recommendations to Lewes District Council’s scrutiny committee on November 28 – with the potential for a final decision being made the following week.
While not airing a view on the scheme itself, council leader Zoe Nicholson (Green) criticised the previous administration for not exploring the proposals in more depth.
She said: “I took this on as part of my portfolio because I recognised this was going to be one of the trickier developments we need to consider as a council.
“The very first thing we noticed when we took over this administration was that the previous administration had not yet fully considered whether or not there were other sites.
“We have gone above and beyond what a district council would normally do in these circumstances and carried out a high level feasibility study and that will be brought into the scrutiny panel process.”
She added she had “a lot of trust” in the scrutiny panel process and was confident it would provide the information needed to make a decision.
This intervention was, however, criticised by Conservative councillors, including Wivelsfield councillor Nancy Bikson.
Cllr Bikson said: “I’m sorry this has turned into a bit of a political thing to have a dig at people because it is obviously a very emotional time for Seaford.
“I am a member of the scrutiny committee and I think the sub-panel is doing an excellent job the best thing to do is let them do the job and then have the conversation.
“We absolutely want to get this right for Seaford. The one thing we can’t solve is this split in Seaford and this obviously very emotional thing that is happening there.
“Eventually, sadly, a decision is going to have to be made and there are going to be unhappy people whatever that decision is.”