A NEW £24m health centre might be converted straight into office space without ever opening to patients – because NHS services say they cannot afford the rent.

The Altrincham Health and Wellbeing Centre – hailed as the major new health hub for south Trafford – was meant to provide a range of medical services, including a minor surgery suite and three GP surgeries.

A string of tenants, including St John’s Medical Centre, Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Trust, Pennine Community Services and Barrington Medical Centre, had all been lined up to move into the new Market Street building, completed just a few weeks ago.

However, papers going before Trafford Clinical Commissioning Group (TCCG) next week reveal concerns over rental costs.

After the trust said it was ‘no longer in a position to commit to previous assurances given to providers regarding cost neutrality’, NHS organisations said they were unwilling to pay the resulting rent.

St John’s said the move would cost its practice £70,000 a year, while Pennine said it was looking at £500,000 in extra overheads and Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust £375,000.

As a result the only organisation now due to open in the centre is non-medical – Altrincham library, which is due to move in from its Stamford New Road site before Christmas.

Now commissioners could end up renting out the remaining space to businesses instead.

Conservative group leader Sean Anstee said the news was ‘deeply concerning’ for residents who had been looking forward to using the new facilities.

“Some serious questions need answering because taxpayers have the right to know what has happened for things to get to this point,” he said.

“However, right now the priority has to be getting the building occupied as soon as possible.”

Cllr Anstee continued: “I would have expected more visible intervention from those in power to ensure the building is used for its original purpose.

“At the very least our residents deserve exemplary and modern health services  – and we stand by them in pressing for that to remain the case.”

Meanwhile, TCCG has said its ‘preferred option’ would now be to convert the building from medical use into commercial office space –  costing a further £7m.
A spokesman for the group said: “Given the increasing financial challenge facing TCCG, it is important that the new leadership team look at all options for the future use of the site.

“The preference is to fully explore all options which will provide for health and well-being related uses, prior to considering any non-health use of the site. ”
The construction of the building has been managed by local developer Citybranch, who agreed a £35m deal with investment company Canada Life to fund its construction.

The sale to Canada Life was concluded this week.

NHS Property Services are now leasing the building from Canada Life for an initial annual rent including utility bills for £2.4m, for 30 years.