A new £30 million ‘medical village’ – with a 140-bedroom nursing home at its heart – is set to bring up to 300 new jobs to the borough.
The development has been earmarked for Rathfriland and the man behind it is Brian McConville, owner of the Newry-based MJM Group.
An application for the ambitious plans – which will transform the face of the town – is due to be publicly advertised next week.
And it is expected to create up to 200 jobs during the construction phase alone.
It will also see 20 jobs being retained – with the capability for further growth – with the relocation of the Rathfriland Health Centre from its current John Street base.
The proposals are so wide and varied and far-reaching that anywhere between 50 and as many as 100 positions across the medical spectrum and the overall site will also be created.
The development will incorporate a medical centre, with a GP surgery.
It will also house what has been described as “associated facilities”, in the form of a pharmacy, physiotherapist, podiatrist, dentist and optician.
Separate again will be the 140-bedroom nursing home.
There will also be four retirement homes, 14 assisted living apartments – in ‘fold type accommodation – and five townhouses.
The whole scheme will include ample car parking and associated site works throughout.
The proposals – dubbed a ‘major’ planning application – will involve the demolition of properties between numbers 87 and 95 Newry Street.
The site also includes lands to the rear, with the planned location described as consisting of houses, a former garden centre, agricultural buildings and lands.
A planning support statement says the proposals will help solve a deepening crisis in local provision with the new jobs having a “knock-on positive impact” on the town.
Millionaire businessman Brian McConville is originally from Rathfriland and started out in the joinery trade 35 years ago.
The family, the statement said, are “acutely aware” of the health care provision issues in the area and how difficult it is to get an appointment.
Mr McConville tried – without success – many years ago to support a private developer in creating new health care facilities at the MJM site in Rathfriland.
They have been watching the public sector attempts to find a new site ever since.
In February, the plans came back to the fore after it was revealed public funds were available to support a new health centre.
The statement explains the steps taken and the reasoning thus: “This came on the back of one of the practices – not in Rathfriland Health Centre – closing and leaving more than 2,000 patients without a GP.
“As a concerned resident Brian McConville contacted the doctors in the three practices currently operating in Rathfriland Health Centre to see what was happening.
“It was reported that the service was in crisis, there was no capacity to take on the extra patients and no room to house the additional services, such as on-site pharmacists, which they should be availing of. There is funding available for extra services which Rathfriland Health Centre cannot take on because they have no space.
“In the current facilities it is also impossible to attract new GPs because of the poor working conditions. Support staff have been pushed to their limits trying to make everything work in such extreme circumstances.
“The proposals previously put forward to potentially to build a new facility on the site of the community centre would not have alleviated the long-term problems given its limited scale.
“At this point Brian McConville and his team wanted to see if anything could be done to address the issue at the land he had available just off Newry Street in Rathfriland.
“There followed a series of consultations with the GPs, local stakeholders, ABC Council and the Health Board.
“The key objective is to deliver a fit-for-purpose GP facility which will house three GP practices and allow for expansion. This would give the current healthcare providers the proper facilities required to provide a quality service to the people of Rathfriland while creating a space which would potentially attract new GPs and secure these vital provisions for the future.
“With impending retirement of current GPs, there is no guarantee in the existing facilities that GP services will continue to be able to be delivered in Rathfriland without intervention.”
The concept of a medical village adds a commercial element to the GP facilities’ proposals, according to the support statement; by adding auxiliary services such as pharmacy, dentist and the care home, it will “help sustainably fund the future delivery of GP services in Rathfriland”.
The planning support statement – being considered by ABC Council officials – says the proposals have “the capability of completely transforming the future of Rathfriland as an attractive place to live and work in the borough”.
And it adds: “At the same time, we are addressing a crisis in local healthcare with a sustainable solution and offering an opportunity which, we believe, will not come around again in our lifetime in Rathfriland.”