PLANNING inspector Jane Stiles has ruled in favour of Hawthorn Medical Centre and Eightlands and guaranteed the future of a controversial pharmacy in Gorse Hill.
The dispensing pharmacy which operates out of the ground floor at the medical centre in May Close has come under close scrutiny since it opened without council permission last October.
Swindon Council rejected a planning application in 2011 for the pharmacy and issued an enforcement notice last November after the business was opened without permission.
Swindon Dispensary, the name of the joint venture between Eightlands and Hawthorn operating the pharmacy, appealed this notice and were heard by Ms Stiles in June.
Following that hearing, the inspector issued her decision on July 24. She said the change of use would not result in an adverse effect on the living conditions of neighbours by reason of noise or disturbance.
Of the evidence presented to Ms Stiles by both the council and the appellants it was found an average of 1.27 patients per hour used the pharmacy on weekday evenings after 7pm, and an average of 3.31 patients per hour on Saturdays.
She said there was no hard evidence to suggest this number would rise over time.
Many concerns were raised by the public over a needle exchange and methadone distribution point at the pharmacy – neither of which currently operate.
Ms Stiles said: “The objectors have expressed fear that crime has increased in the area and that discarded needles have been found in the grounds of Harber Court and in May Close since the pharmacy has opened.
“However, whilst photographic evidence has been produced of a discarded needle, it is unclear to me how this and the other alleged findings can be associated with the pharmacy since it does not currently offer a service in needle/syringe exchange.
“As pointed out by Dr Dowdeswell (practitioner at Hawthorn) at the hearing, these alleged findings could in fact point to a need to offer such a service.”
On the matter of noise and disturbance, the inspector said: “I am in no doubt that the fears expressed by local residents and other interested persons are very real to those people.
“However, concerns in respect of noise and disturbance late at night are not borne out by the hard evidence before me in terms of the very low numbers of people visiting the pharmacy outside surgery hours; the average duration of their visit; the traffic surveys and the noise surveys.”
Responding to the appeal result, Tasawer Hussein, director of Eightlands and Swindon Dispensary, said: “The pharmacy was lawful right at the beginning.
“We want to thank all of the community which supported us.
“This place isn’t a nightclub. It is not noisy and will not cause disturbance for residents.
“Commonsense prevailed in the end.
“Rumours and letters were going around when we first opened and a lot of people went by these rather than the facts.”
Coun John Ballman (Lab, Gorse Hill & Pinehurst), said: “Ward councillors, along with a considerable number of people who objected to the establishment of a 100 hour-per-week pharmacy, are disappointed with the inspector’s decision, particularly in light of the previous decision being turned down on appeal.
“We are disappointed with the outcome.
“As ward councillors we did everything we could for the residents and their concerns.
“I should imagine, providing the worst fears of the residents about the effect of the 100-hour-per-week pharmacy don’t come to pass, people will adjust to it.
“Their fears are it will be attracting people into the area that residents would rather not see coming there. If that proves correct, it’s going to be very difficult.”
Ms Stiles imposed conditions on the pharmacy. Any retail sales must not take place outside 8am to 10.30pm from Monday to Saturday, or from 8am to 9pm on Sundays.
Deliveries also may not be made outside 8am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and no deliveries are permitted on Sundays.