A proposed $20 million infrastructure investment is set to boost access to healthcare services for North Canterbury’s rural communities.
The proposed development is set to attract medical professionals into Amberley, situated in the heart of the Hurunui District about 45 minutes north of Christchurch and tagged as one of the South Island’s fastest growing towns.
The facility could also see the addition of other wellness services, including a fitness centre.
Industry experts said the rapid population growth in the area has not been matched by the development of healthcare infrastructure, leaving thousands of residents to drive long distances for medical, dental, physiotherapy and other health services.
According to Stats NZ data, the population of Amberley has increased 58% over 12 years.
The Hurunui District Council forecasts also suggest the population will more than double from 2300 to 5000 residents before the availability of residential land begins to constrain growth.
The addition of eight new subdivisions and a new $200m retirement village have seen record numbers of consents issued in the town.
A recent University of Otago study found rates of mortality higher for rural populations such as North Canterbury, with researchers finding access to primary and secondary health care challenging for those outside of urban areas.
The study also found mortality for Māori was 32% higher than non-Māori in rural areas.
The new three-level, 3000m2 health and wellness facility is planned for a vacant site adjacent to the 2.7ha Brackenfields Shopping Centre.
A director of Erskine Owen, the company behind a property syndicate formed to purchase Brackenfields, Alan Henderson, said with the growing population of Amberley there is an increasing need for health services in the area.
“We know that Amberley has a high number of retirees and that this number will grow as the new retirement village comes online and more people move into the area.”
The medical centre could attract a variety of healthcare professionals such as a GP, dentist and physio with the company currently consulting with the community and undertaking other research to determine the ideal mix of service providers.
“Access to healthcare providers is typically poor throughout New Zealand’s rural townships and for those needing regular visits or specialist care, the long drive can be a significant barrier to treatment,” Henderson said.
Initial discussions with residents indicate there is significant demand for additional health services in the area.
“The healthcare model we are developing now is designed to support the needs of the community for decades into the future and we want to consult with stakeholders in the wider area to ensure it can effectively meet local needs.”
The facility may also include other types of retail or professional services, depending on the outcome of the consultation with the community.
“While still in the planning phase, there is scope to shape this into a state-of-the-art medical and wellness facility that will support the needs of those in the wider region, as well as those travelling north on SH1.”