Northern Trust seeks planning permission for £80m mental health hospital at Antrim

A planning application has been submitted to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council for a new £80m mental health hospital.
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The new facility planned for a site at Antrim Hospital, Bush Road, is to be known as the Birch Hill Centre for Mental Health. The proposed 134-bed building will replace the existing Holywell Hospital, in Antrim. It will also replace the Ross Thomson Unit, an 18-bed acute admission ward at Causeway Hospital, Coleraine.

The proposed development by the Northern Health Trust will comprise treatment wards, staff and visitor facilities, management and operational spaces, health and well-being facilities, external landscaping and gardens, car parking and servicing facilities.

A design and access statement said: “The vision for the Birch Hill Centre for Mental Health is to provide a patient-centred landscape design, with a focus on establishing a balanced approach to provide both a safe and therapeutic environment for patients, staff and visitors.

An artist’s impression of the Birch Hill Centre for Mental Health. Pic: Northern Health and Social Care Trust.An artist’s impression of the Birch Hill Centre for Mental Health. Pic: Northern Health and Social Care Trust.
An artist’s impression of the Birch Hill Centre for Mental Health. Pic: Northern Health and Social Care Trust.

“The design emphasises the use of air, light, space, nature and the views to the surrounding countryside using a ‘village’ concept where a series of buildings are settled within the Antrim landscape.

“The village design has a number of blocks connected by covered walkways – these have been given careful consideration to provide shelter for users and sufficient width to allow people and equipment to pass each other.This layout allows for a proximity to gardens and nature which is essential in creating calming and therapeutic environments.

“The design features four patient twin wards consisting of a total of 134 patient bedrooms, associated living/dining areas, and staff facilities. A key requirement of the project brief was to maximise views out of patient bedrooms to open countryside, landscape and nature.

Wider Countryside

“The need for clinical and patient accommodation to be on the ground floor only allows more day and sunlight to penetrate the spaces between the buildings and also views out down the slope to the wider countryside.”

The proposed development has been described as “a building which supports the patient journey to recovery, eases decision making, reduces agitation and distress, encourages independence and social interaction and promotes safety whilst enabling activities of daily living in a homely environment”.

In addition, it has been designed “to provide flexibility and adaptability for future use including expansion A multi-faith space will be included to “provide sanctuary” within Birch Hill. The statement also noted 156 car parking spaces will be made available.

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“The health trust is acutely aware of the demands for car parking at the wider Antrim Area Hospital site. To prevent the possibility of parking within the existing Antrim Area Hospital car parks or on the internal road network, an additional 30 per cent of the total parking requirements will therefore be provided, increasing the total number of new car parking spaces to 156.”

The new Birch Hill Centre for Mental Health is scheduled for handover to the Trust in 2027. No decision has been taken yet on the future of the Holywell Hospital premises which accommodates up to 400 staff members. It is a listed building which the Trust has a responsibility to maintain.

Holywell Hospital was built in 1898 to accommodate 1,000 patients with the three ‘Tobernaveen’ wards opening in the 1950s.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter