Can health save our high streets?

Community Ventures’ Director of Consultancy Jonathan Turner looks at whether the delivery of health care facilities, especially for primary care and community services, could help revitalise the country’s ailing town centres.

The primary care sector is facing a time of crisis, with nearly one in five GP practices having closed since 2013, and shortages of qualified GPs leading to growing workloads for existing staff.
Alongside this, one in four GP practice premises is in a ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ state, according to BMA research, with significant investment in new, modern surgery buildings and health hubs badly needed.

At the same time, the country’s high streets are also in decline, with the growth in online shopping, popularity of out-of-town shopping parks and high-profile shop closures of major retailers such as Wilko, Paperchase and Mothercare.

Since the pandemic, the NHS Reset campaign has been examining what the health and social care system should look like. One of the areas they have looked at is health and the high street, looking at how the health sector can get more involved in the community, and the high street in particular.

But can these seemingly unrelated sectors work together to the benefit of both? It’s an interesting proposition.

When making decisions about the location of a new health centre or primary care facility, there are several critical elements our team of estates consultants will consider, including:

  • Can the facility be accessed easily by everyone, including disabled people, the elderly, and those without access to a car?
  • Are other partner services available nearby, for example community services, social care and pharmacies, to support the delivery of primary care services?
  • Is the surrounding area safe for staff and patients?

For all of these points, it makes sense to at least consider locating new health facilities in town centres. They are generally easily accessible not only by cars, but also by bike, public transport and on foot, especially when compared with out-of-town locations – a feature which also encourages a healthier lifestyle. Ensuring that health estate is easily accessible to all is key in ensuring that everyone can access services at the right time and the right place, which can support the reduction of health inequalities in some communities.

Town centres attract other services, such as a choice of pharmacies, libraries and advice centres, dental practices and other health and social care services, meaning it’s easy for health sector, public sector and private sector services to work together, utilising the available estate to its fullest extent, and opening up additional options for patients.

Finally, town centres are designed for people to visit safely, tending to be well lit, busy and often pedestrianised.

However, the benefits work both ways. Locating a health hub in a town centre brings greater footfall onto the high street, attracting people who wouldn’t normally have made the trip, and making visitors to the high street more diverse. These people may often combine their health and wellbeing appointment with visiting shops or a café, boosting trade in the area. Additionally, the staff who work in the health centre provide a much-needed regular increase in high street visitors.

Community Ventures has been involved in two recent projects which are attempting to bring health to the high street.

We are currently working on a new development in Keighley, where we are working on behalf of the Bradford District & Craven Health and Care Partnership to lead the development process and author the business case for a new health and wellbeing centre, which has secured a £3.4m capital contribution as part of a Towns Fund grant from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

The proposed new health hub could include a range of health services, including GPs, community care, mental health, dental care, training and more. Subject to appropriate approvals it will be built on a brownfield site in the town centre, which was formerly occupied by Keighley College.

As well as helping integrate health services, the centre will also bring around 200 jobs to the town centre, providing a welcome boost for the high street.

Cllr Alex Ross-Shaw, Portfolio Holder for Regeneration, Planning and Transport for City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, said: “The announcement is a great result for Keighley. It will bring a brand new facility in the heart of Keighley, in easy reach of transport links and which will provide essential services to improve the lives of those living in the community.

“In addition, it will be a great boost for investment and jobs for Keighley and the wider district.”

We’ve also been involved with the planning of a new health hub in Castleford. This will be the town’s first major regeneration project under the Strategic Regeneration Framework for Castleford, a guide to how the town centre can be developed over the next two decades. It shows how local authorities should be considering health as an important factor in the push of footfall to town centres.

The health sector should use its power to be a catalyst for change in our communities, and the crisis on our high streets is one where it can make a real difference.

If you need help with the planning, funding and development of health facilities, our team of experienced estates professionals can help. Get in touch.