Proposed Health Facility for Mercury Bay

The Mercury Bay Medical Facility Trust and the owners of Mercury Bay Medical Centre (the “White House”) in Albert Street, Whitianga signed on in July 2019 with a memorandum of understanding to jointly investigate the feasibility of developing a new multi-service medical facility in Whitianga

Made up of local representatives from the Mercury Bay Area, with strong professional backgrounds in either the health, business or community support sectors, the Mercury Bay Medical Facility Trust Board was established in ne 2017.

In Council’s 2016-17 Annual Plan, $250,000 seed funding was approved from the Mercury Bay local rate to go towards the setting up the Trust, which, with these funds, will now be responsible for the delivery of a business case for the development of the facility. To date, approximately $30,000 of the seed funding has been spent on negotiations with a variety of parties, the scoping of development costs, determining the needs the facility will have to satisfy and identifying any financial risks the trust, as a community organisation, will have to contend with in the development and ongoing management of the facility

The business case will include a detailed implementation plan, detailed design plans, cost estimates, resource consenting requirements, strategies for securing funding, working with the medical practitioners and health authorities, determining on-going operation and management structures along with communications.

“We’re delighted to have signed the memorandum of understanding with the Mercury Bay Medical Centre,” says Trust chair, Murray McLean. “To have a group of local medical practitioners on board is providing a stable foundation to progress work on a custom-designed facility that will ultimately provide the people of Mercury Bay with better medical care.”

“The trustees of the trust are well aware that we represent the community,” says Murray. “We’ve been very prudent with our spending to date and will continue to be careful going forward. The next steps from here will be to work with the doctors to better define what the facility should offer, get a preliminary design drawn up, get more accurate costings on the table, consider fundraising and other funding options and continue negotiations with other stakeholders and,  potential users of the facility.

“One of the things that has already come to light is that the facility will have to provide accommodation from outside the Mercury Bay area to doctors who come to work in Whitianga over the busy summer season.

“We also understand the importance of keeping the Waikato District Health Board informed of our progress. We’ve already had discussions with the DHB about the facility and understand their financial constraints, but will make sure that our planning is done in such a way to accommodate any future requirements they may have in providing patients in Mercury Bay and the top half of the Coromandel Peninsula with improved and more costs effective medical care.”

Whitianga Waterways is pleased with the signing of the memorandum of understanding. “It’s a great step forward,” says Peter Abrahamson, the Whitianga Waterways manager. “A multi-service medical facility will be a great asset to the Mercury Bay area.  We’re looking forward to future conversations with the Mercury Bay Medical Facility Trust.”

A spokesperson for Mercury Bay Medical Centre says they’re also looking forward to working with the trust. “We always desire to provide the best possible medical services in the Mercury Bay area,” says the spokesperson. “Becoming involved in the early stages of the investigation into the feasibility of a new medical facility in Whitianga that will meet the needs of modern-day medical practice fits in perfectly with our purpose.”

The Trust Board

Murray McLean - Mercury Bay councillor for the Thames-Coromandel DIstrict Council. Murray moved to Whitianga permanently 15 years ago, but proudly has history dating back to 1865 when his forebears arrived here as settlers. Murray has been self-employed in the building industry, got his Masters of Business Administration (MBA) when he was 40 and is also involved in the Masonic Trust, whose Board is responsible for managing $20M in assets. Murray is also a former MP.

Kevin Pringle - ONZM, M.B., Ch.B., F.R.A.C.S: After completing his degree at Otago School of Medicine, Kevin went on to practice paediatric surgery at Melbourne, Chicago and Iowa, where he became Associate Professor of Pediatric Surgery, before returning back to NZ. Kevin currently has a 0.2FTE academic appointment -  Professor of Paediatric Surgery with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, UOW (University of Otago, Wellington). He has on-going research collaboration with Professor with Hiro Kitagawa, Head of the Department of Pediatric Surgery at St Marianna University School of Medicine.  Kevin is a Whitianga resident.

Alison Henry - A Cooks Beach resident for the past 15 years and is a former Chair of the Mercury Bay Community Board. As well as having a background in community social work, Alison worked for the Department of Conservation in Auckland in the 1990s. She has completed Resource Management Commissioner Training, and was a member of the TCDC District Plan Review Committee. She continues to be involved with Kauri 2000 as well the local Mercury Bay arts community.

Merv George - Born and bred in Whitianga, Merv has owned a plumbing and drainlaying business in the town since the 1970s. He has been the fire chief of the Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade since 1984 and past president of the United Fire Brigades Association of New Zealand. (UFBA). Merv was also awarded a Queen's Service Order (QSO) honour in 2010 for his contribution to the fire service.

While these Trustees have been appointed, we still want to hear from people throughout the community who want to be involved. The next step will be establishing a business case for the development of the project, which will involve a series of public meetings, and will also help the Trust with stop/go points along the way.

The site

The site on Joan Gaskell Drive Whitianga is approximately 4000m2, with developers Whitianga Waterways making the land available to the Mercury Bay community, at no cost to ratepayers. At its meeting on 29 June 2016 Council supported the agreement for the land to be used for the purpose of a medical facility. Council also endorsed the Mercury Bay Community Board starting the appropriate research and investigations to establish the feasibility of the proposal and report back to Council on the outcomes.

Currently many people travel to Auckland, Hamilton and Thames to meet with medical specialists, which can be stressful, costly and exhausting.Having a wider range of healthcare services provides more security and assurance for people to stay within the District,"Since the announcement was made, we've had lots of positive feedback from both our permanent and absentee residents and ratepayers. Many of our absentee ratepayers tell us that they will now be considering staying longer, or even permanently if there is a wider range of medical services available. We've also had feedback from absentee ratepayers who provide specialist medical services who could be interested in renting space.

Services that could be provided for at the facility include

  • Audiology                                            Obstetrics
  • Paediatric                                            Psychology/Mental health
  • Screening services                           Speech and language therapy
  • Minor surgery                                       Oncology
  • Gynaecology                                         Day treatments
  • Occupational Health
  • Diet/health promotion/protection

Concept site plan 

Click on image to open larger version.

Twelve sites were investigated for a medical facility and the site at Joan Gaskell was the preferred option because of the nil land cost, direct access from the main entrance road into and out of town, its central location in Whitianga and close proximity to ambulance and rescue helicopter services. The development and acquisition costs were also more favourable than the alternatives.

At its July 2015 meeting the Mercury Bay Community Board considered a report which looks at a Project Plan. You can read the agenda item here (item 3.1)

Draft concept of the new Mercury Bay medical facility project. 

Draft concept of the new Mercury Bay medical facility project (click image to expand).

From right: Whitianga Waterways Project Manager Peter Abrahamson, Councillor Tony Fox, Councillor Murray McLean and then Mayor Glenn Leach on the site of the proposed medical 2015. Photo supplied by Stephan Bosman of The Informer

The land agreement

Some of the points in the agreement between Whitianga Waterways and our Council for the land is:

  • It must be used for a medical facility. No other use is permitted.
  • The net purchase price is nil.
  • Purchaser to obtain subdivision consent and land use consent within 18 months of the agreement.
  • Both parties are satisfied with conditions of the consent.
  • The purchaser may transfer the property to a Charitable Trust or similar entity for zero consideration, for the purpose of owning, developing and operating a medical facility.
  • Purchaser to be responsible for construction of all works providing access onto the property. The costs of this are estimated at $200,000 and will be part of the development costs to be met by the development, not from Council funds.