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New walk-in clinic delayed

Hands tied: Marico Thomas (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The opening of a new walk-in clinic has been delayed for almost four months after a row between planning officials and the Development Applications Board.Marico Thomas, the chief executive of Bermuda Medical Specialties Group, said Health Express Urgent Care should have been open for business on July 1.But he added: “July, August and September have already passed. Even when we get the go-ahead, we will have to ramp up to get ready to go and that’s going to take time.“My hands have been tied because the planning department is arguing with the planning board and I’m stuck in the middle.”He added: “We are trying to bring the costs down by bringing in new ways to see the doctor, but we’re being challenged left, right and centre by the status quo.”Mr Thomas said: “If anyone was to go to the bank and borrow $400,000, and on top of that say you need $500,000 for staff, the bank is going to want that money back.Blackhawk Consulting, part of Mr Thomas’s business group, last year applied for planning permission to change the use of a site on Hamilton’s Reid Street from a retail unit to a walk-in clinic.Mr Thomas said the plan was approved in February and work to convert the building started, but he was later told the application had to be resubmitted because of an administrative error.He added that the company was told verbally and in writing it could continue work on the Reid Street building and the application was sent in again in April.But planning permission was denied by the DAB in June because the plan contravened the 2015 City of Hamilton Plan.The board said the proposal did not contribute to the “vitality and interest of the principal shopping area”.Mr Thomas said that the DAB refusal came despite support from the planning inspector.He added that he had lodged an appeal against the DAB decision, but had been warned the process could take months.Mr Thomas said: “The unfortunate effect of all this is we have had to terminate Bermudian jobs. We own Four Star Pizza and we had hired people in some positions to be shared between the businesses, like human resources and administration.“We had to terminate some of these well-paid Bermudians who we had hired.”There were 16 objections to the change of use, 12 of them “petition-style” with identical content, but different signatures.The objectors also raised concerns that the project went against the area’s designation as a “primary shopping area” in the City of Hamilton Plan.But Peter Adwick of Adwick Planning, planning agents for BMSG, said the project would boost the area.Mr Adwick said in a written response to an objection: “As far as the walk-in clinic is concerned the vitality of the area will be enhanced by an expected increase in footfall resulting from the new use and the interest of this part of downtown Hamilton would be promoted by the installation of a new healthcare-related facility to complement the existing pharmacy.”Mr Adwick also noted the project would include a retail element.He said: “In addition to providing treatment for minor illness and injuries and skin problems as well as advice on wellness initiatives, the clinic will sell or rent retail items. “These will include medical weight-management food, technology and programmes, medical skincare products, sleep aids, splints, bandages and many other medical items.”Mr Adwick added: “Health Express will also operate extended hours into the evening beyond the normal shop closing time. “It will also operate seven days a week. In this way, it will promote activity and interest in this part of the principal shopping area when it would otherwise be quiet and closed.”