Councillors have been told that if a new multi million pound health hub is not built on a town centre site, it is unlikely to happen at all.
Members of the Keighley Area Committee were given an update on the contentious plans to build a hub on the former Keighley College site on North Street at a meeting on Thursday night.
They were told that building the hub on another site in the town would probably add millions to the budget, and could lead to the local NHS trust walking away from the plans.
Plans to build a new health hub in the town date back a number of years. The building was due to be located on the former Keighley College site at the junction of North Street and Cavendish Street.
After the college was demolished in preparation for the work, the site was greened over to create a new temporary town park.
In recent years there have been calls for the site to be retained as a green space, and for another site to be found for the hub.
At Thursday’s meeting, Councillors were given an update on the progress of the Keighley Towns Fund, a £33m grant to regenerate the town.
Part of the funding for the hub was due to come from this grant. But the town’s MP Robbie Moore has backed residents’ calls for the plans to be moved to a different site.
He raised these concerns with Government, and the Towns Fund Board is awaiting a decision from government as to whether the scheme can go ahead.
Alan Lunt from Bradford Council highlighted the issues with the health hub at the meeting.
He said: “There were concerns raised by the Constituency MP that there had been a lack of other sites that had been explored.
“We looked at other alternatives, but this site was conveniently located and available for development because the Council owns it. There might be other sites available, but that would require these sites to be purchased, demolished and cleared.
“The Council had voted to press ahead on this site. It is within the right of the constituency MP to address his concerns, but the Towns Fund is predicated on the local MP supporting all the schemes.”
He said the Towns Fund Board hoped the Government would make a decision on the project by the end of the month.
Mr Lunt said: “If the minister was concerned we hadn’t done our job and did not support the scheme, it would be virtually impossible to identify another site in time as we need the project approved by May.”
He was asked about a parish vote last July, in which a majority of Keighley residents said they wanted the health hub, but not on the North Street site.
Mr Lunt said: “The majority were in favour of retaining that site as a green space, but the majority of people also wanted a health hub.”
Councillor Paul Godwin (Lab, Keighley West) said he had been a medical director at the Airedale NHS Trust in 2002 when there had been an exploration of where a new health hub could be built.
He said: “Then we visited six sites, and they were all discounted for a variety of reasons.
“The health service has claimed that to build a health hub on a site other than this one would mean an additional cost of £2-3 million. They have said that it is not on this site they would walk away from the project – those are the words of the NHS.
“The other sites have all been rejected for a number of reasons.”
Mr Lunt agreed, saying: “If this scheme doesn’t proceed on this site, it won’t go ahead.”
Cllr Godwin added: “This looked like it was our chance. This is a big chance to get something we’ve needed in Keighley for donkey’s years. If we miss out we’ll be waiting another 20 years.
“There is no prospect of this going anywhere else in Keighley.”
Councillor Zafar Ali (Independent, Keighley Central) heavily criticised Mr Moore, saying: “The MP shouldn’t have come into it and made it such an issue. This site has never been a green space, but the MP has jumped on this and made it into a party issue.
“It has never been a green space – it is the wrong image he has given to the people of Keighley.”
Councillor Moshin Hussain (Lab, Keighley Central) suggested some kind of compromise be made, adding: “This goes beyond party politics and looks at what is needed in Keighley. We’ll lose this if we don’t agree to a compromise. We need a health centre.”
Mr Lunt said: “The site is a former college acquired using a grant from Yorkshire Forward that was given on the understanding that it should provide economic regeneration.
“There had been a building on there since 1870.”
He said the Council had spoken to Yorkshire Forward to see if there could be some flexibility, and this could include an area of open space on the site of the hub.
Councillor Chris Herd (Cons, Worth Valley) asked why empty buildings in the town could not be considered.
Mr Lunt: “When you’re talking about a modern health centre the requirements are pretty specific in terms of the space and facilities needed.”
He said existing buildings were “not always the easiest” to convert, adding: “Unless we have a building owner who is a great benefactor that is going to gift it, it could cost millions more. Even if they did, you’d have the cost of demolishing a site and preparing it. It would be difficult to find a site as available, as conveniently located and as affordable to build a high quality health centre on.”