A NEW underground health centre in the heart of Oxford will serve 20,000 residents and boost trade for shops.

Jesus College is currently in the process of rebuilding Northgate House in Cornmarket Street as a block of shops and flats.

While the £36m building is currently not much more than a concrete shell, it is hoped it the shopping and student accommodation block could be opened next autumn.

Now the city council has approved the GP surgery plan for the building’s basement, as well as part of the ground floor and first floor.

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The new basement medical centre, accessed from Market Street, will allow three different practices to move on to one site.

They are King Edward Street Surgery and two practices at 27 and 28 Beaumont Street, all of which are considered ‘not fit for purpose’ because they are based in old, cramped buildings.

As Oxford City Council’s planning committee considered the plans on Tuesday (October 13), GP Matthew Bramall said the move into a new purpose-built surgery was ‘long awaited’.

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Picture: MICA Architects

Addressing the committee Dr Bramall added: “Looking after your citizens' health and wellbeing is a fundamental objective of the council – you provide housing, you tackle air pollution, you manage parks, transport and waste collection, and all of these things have a huge impact on local people’s health.

“Making sure they can access decent, compassionate, modern healthcare is surely a goal we all share.”

But there were also worries about how disabled people and the elderly would be able to access the ‘car-free’ surgery.

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Planning committee member Andrew Gant said new, car-free buildings in central Oxford was something ‘we all want to see’, but added: “There seems to be an assumption running through the report and the thinking here that all patients will be able to transition from their current means of getting to the doctors surgery to doing so on foot or by bus.

“Clearly there will be some for whom that will present a challenge.”

He was told by planning officer Michael Kemp there were disabled parking bays in the city centre which could be used by less-able patients and that council staff considered the site accessible.

There was a technical debate about whether the council should even discuss accessibility as a concern in relation to rubber stamping the new surgery.

The council’s chief legal expert Sally Fleming said it did have a duty to discuss the impact of new buildings on different groups of people with ‘protected characteristics’.

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The entrance on Market Street. Picture: MICA Architects

Ms Fleming said: “There is the question of the equality act and there is a public sector equality duty to consider and think about how their decisions affect people who are protected under the equality act. Disability and age are protected characteristics.”

But she added: “You have to balance that against the benefits to the wider community that this surgery will provide.”

The planning committee unanimously approved the plans, but there were some reservations about how the reception area of the surgery on the ground floor would be unmanned and could be open to anti-social behaviour.

The three GP surgeries are part of an initiative to reorganise healthcare in Oxford, and together could serve 20,000 patients.

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Alongside two other surgeries making up a new Oxford Central Primary Care Network they will serve between 40,000 and 50,000 patients.

Committee member Louise Upton said the thousands of people visiting the city centre shopping street to see their GP would likely use nearby shops and boost their business.

Oxfordshire’s Clinical Commissioning Group, an NHS body responsible for deciding how to spend money on local health services, is responsible for paying rents, and ‘fit-out’ costs for the new surgery HQ.

To see the plans in full visit oxford.gov.uk and search for application 20/01468/FUL.