NEWS
04/27/2017 12:32 EDT | Updated 04/30/2017 10:26 EDT

Halifax mayor 'surprised' new outpatient health centre will be in Bayers Lake

Halifax's mayor says he was "surprised" by the province's decision to put a new outpatient health centre in a suburban business park on the outskirts of downtown.

Mike Savage said the city was not involved in developing the site for the new outpatient hospital in Bayers Lake, a retail park with big-box outlet stores and restaurants.

"It's a surprise to all of us," he said in an interview Thursday. "We didn't know where it was going to go."

The new health centre, a branch of Halifax's QEII hospital, will replace some of the services offered at the problem-plagued Victoria General hospital downtown.

Although Savage said not everybody should have to go downtown for all their health care needs, he added that a hospital should ideally be accessible by patients and workers.

"If that's where it goes, in Bayers Lake, it's a bit of a challenge for us," he said. "If there is a need for a service, like transit let's say, then we will have to do an evaluation."

While Savage said the challenge is "surmountable," Halifax's chief planner was less confident.

"It will be nearly impossible to provide adequate transit service out there," Bob Bjerke said. "We can't provide buses or rail everywhere."

In addition, Bjerke said, the area is already congested.

"In terms of driving, that is already an area that certainly we hear complaints from people even just going out for their shopping," he said. "It's not an area that has free-flow traffic all the time."

Bjerke added that the area "doesn't have great bike infrastructure and isn't likely to."

The city's senior planner said he provided high-level feedback to the province that Bayers Lake was not a suitable location for an outpatient hospital.

"We did highlight that if it's going to be a major facility and if it's going to be successful, it needs to be in area that can support good access and that includes cars as well as everything else," Bjerke said. "There are certainly good opportunities for suburban locations but this is not one of them."

Bjerke said the city has worked with the provincial health department on municipal policy like the integrated mobility plan and the centre plan.

"We don't deliver health care but we've developed an understanding that where you place things has a really significant impact on health outcomes for the community," he said.

"There are health implications both in terms of people's proximity to certain kinds of facilities but also in terms of the kinds of communities these various things reinforce," Bjerke said. "The walkability, active transportation ... all these things we've come to recognize are very important."

Last week, Premier Stephen McNeil unveiled the six-hectare Bayers Lake site the province purchased for $7.5 million as part of the redevelopment of aging QEII sites.

The facility will offer services including blood collection, x-rays, initial visits with specialists, and other services.

McNeil said access to Highways 102 and 103, which run very close to the site, was a key factor in choosing the spot, as well as population growth in the area.

However, Bjerke pointed out that Bayers Lake is a business park, not a residential area where people live.

He said in most provinces, both municipalities and provincial governments play a role in urban planning and regional development.

"Here, it's kind of an odd position," he said. "The province really wants to exempt themselves from good planning."