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January 24, 2022

Why bother? 

When the Community Empowerment legislation was being drafted, a general presumption in favour of requests from communities to have an asset transferred was established. However, it was felt that for communities to have real confidence in the process, an appeals process to Scottish Ministers should also be included. But the whole point of an appeals process is that there must be some chance of winning and to date, not one appeal has been successful. A group from Brechin is the latest to fall foul of a system that is fast losing all credibility.

The Courier

Angus health campaigners are at a crossroads after seeing their dream of creating a community hub in an old town hospital crushed.

Brechin Healthcare Group says it will now “step back” to reflect on the failed appeal against NHS Tayside’s rejection of a community asset transfer (CAT) bid for the disused local infirmary.

NHS Tayside is spending more than £30,000 a year to keep Brechin Infirmary wind and watertight.

The group has pledged to continue to deliver vital support through its Jenner Centre.

It was set up as a stop-gap while the infirmary dream of creating a community health and wellbeing hub was being pursued.

But the group has just a short lease on the old bank branch in the town centre which is home to the valuable facility.

And chairman Grahame Lockhart has admitted BHG’s future is “uncertain”.

Meanwhile, NHS Tayside say all options will now be considered over what is to happen to the infirmary.

But a £600,000-plus valuation on a cleared development site would suggest sale is the most likely outcome.

Disappointment and anger

Mr Lockhart said BHG met in the wake of the Scottish Ministers’ decision to reject their appeal.

“And whilst there is deep disappointment at the decision, the overwhelming emotion of all of us on the steering group is anger at the way we have been treated by NHS Tayside,” he said.

“Since the decision has been made public, we have received numerous messages from folk in the community expressing their disappointment and anger at the decision.

“People are wondering what’s next for Brechin.”

He hit out at repeated delays in the CAT process from the time it was first submitted in 2019.

More than two years’ later, the board of NHS Tayside rejected the application.

‘Slap in the face’

Mr Lockhart said: “We acknowledge that the pandemic has impacted on the CAT process.

“But from our initial contact with NHS Tayside in 2018 until June 2021 there has been delay after delay, necessitating us to go to the top to get the process moving.

“It makes a mockery of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.

“The support from the community over the six years since BHG was set up has been amazing.

“And raising £12,000 in six weeks to fund building surveys demonstrated folks’ support for the project.

“The refusal of the CAT request and dismissal of the appeal is a slap in the face to the wonderful people in our community.

“We have decided to step back for a period of reflection to consider where we go from here.

The Jenner Centre with its short-term lease will continue its excellent work.

“However, the future for BHG is uncertain,” said Mr Lockhart.

Project figures and the site’s future

The appeal reporter’s ruling highlighted the potential value of the old infirmary as a development site.

BHG offered £150k – a figure the reporter felt was reasonable given the community benefit which would follow.

NHS Tayside board said that figure fell well short of their £400k valuation for the Infirmary Street site.

And they suggest it will rise to £675k for a cleared development site.

The two sides were also miles apart in their assessment of cost of works required to deliver the new hub.

NHS Tayside forecast the total figure to be around £1.6 million – BHG suggested it would be just over £600k.

The board also say the backlog of maintenance needed was almost £400,000 in 2018.

And they are spending more than £30,000 a year to keep the empty structure wind and watertight.

NHS Tayside did not confirm if the infirmary would now be put on the open market in the wake of the appeal outcome.

A spokesperson said: “We will now be considering all options in relation to the site’s future.”