Western NSW LHD's chosen site for the alcohol and other drugs rehabilitation centre in west Dubbo will be private, peaceful and will come with fewer beds than previously planned.
At the Thursday morning announcement, the District also claimed the timeline of the centre's opening was "out of their hands" and depended on plans going smoothly.
The rehab facility will be built at the western end of Spears drive on four hectares of undeveloped land atop a hill. It will be located within the North West Precinct that Dubbo Regional Council is currently looking to develop.
Neighbours in the area are to receive letters in their mailbox informing them about the purchase of land. They will be invited to consultations for the design of the rehab centre along with the wider community and the Dubbo Aboriginal Land Council.
Chief executive of the Western NSW Local Health District (WNSWLHD), Mark Spittal, said it would look and feel like a residential house in the community and not a public facility like a school or hospital.
"We will now work with the neighbours of that land, with wider community [and the] Dubbo Aboriginal Land council on the process of designing it on Country so that we can assure the service that is developed is going to meet the needs of the people who are going to receive care and treatment here," Mr Spittal said.
He said since February 2022 the health district had looked at more than 40 parcels of land and had only recently come to a deal with the landowner of the current chosen site.
Details of the chosen site
Mr Spittal said the size of the land would ensure the privacy of those coming to use the facility and also of those in the neighbourhood and the wider community.
"From our point of view it also enables us to do some substantial landscaping. If you were to look across onto the hills of west dubbo in ten years time you'd see a marvellous pinch of bush, natives trees and timber and land, a very therapeutic environment and in the midst of that will be the rehab centre," he said
He also said the rehab facility would house activities like pottery, woodwork and basketball for its residents.
WNSWLHD chose the Spears Drive site for their "passion project" because it is close to Dubbo, an "urban centre".
"Rehab is not just about being in a room with [counsellors] it's about reintegrating into your wider life. Ultimately, it's about reconnecting with family," Mr Spittal said.
"Part of our vision is to have residential facilities that as people get though their therapy, they're actually able to stay and transition back into community life in a really effective way and not just suddenly abandoned at the end of the program."
While the original plan in 2020 stated the centre would have 15 beds for a rehabilitation facility and eight beds for a detox facility. The announcement revealed the changes to the rehab centre which will now have fewer, with 16 beds including four beds for withdrawal support.
"20 people in one area is a quite a large cohort of people to use that facility... also, there are monetary factors, the significant cost with 23 beds. We did reduce that to 16 and we think that's a really manageable number," Jason Crisp, WNSWLHD director of mental health, drug and alcohol said.
Daily Liberal also asked Mr Crisp whether they will be choosing a local service provider to run the centre.
"We open the tender to the state but if a local service provider is tendering then of course we will consider," he said.
Timeline to 2024 opening
After consulting neighbours and the community, the health district will be submitting a development application (DA). WNSWLHD believe it will take somewhere between "three and four months" for the DA process to be completed which they hope to lodge before June 2023.
The Western Region Planning Panel will consider the application and take up to 70 days to make a decision.
"We are confident that we can meet the needs of the local community, the therapeutic needs of the residents... and that we can meet all the town planning and zoning requirements on that piece of land," Mr Spittal said.
The tender process for constructing the rehab centre will begin after the DA passes, and will take about 12 months to be built.
"Obviously if there are a wide range of objections... that timeline is out of our hands and could take longer, but our goal is to get this facility open and started and services being delivered by late 2024," Mr Spittal said.
Until then, Jason Crisp WNSWLHD director for mental health, drug and alcohol wanted to remind people that there were other services in and around Dubbo that they could use if they needed.
He said they had been piloting a program for the last six months and will begin another six-week program at the Dubbo Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol counselling service on Bultje Street.
"Please call into 41 Bultje Street or ring the drug and alcohol helpline on 1300 887 000," Mr Crisp said.
Moving forward, he said another program would be developed in the near future with services like the Royal Flying Doctors Service, Lives Lived Well, and Mission Australia.
Local member Dugald Saunders defended the delay in finalising a site for the centre saying the health district had been working on COVID and due diligence had to be done for picking a site that fit all the criteria.
"It has been a long process and we're very proud of the block we have," Mr Saunders said.
With an upcoming state election, many expressed concerns that the rehab centre progress was delayed to make an announcement close to March 26. The local member called the allegations "disingenuous".
"To suggest anything other than the health team has been doing its absolute best to find the best location is completely disingenuous," Mr Saunders said.
"People will say what they want to say, people will link it to an election commitment. This is already funded [and] guaranteed. It was about finding the right block of land that's now happened and this process now will continue.
"So anyone that's saying that things have been mixed up politically is really disingenuous... if you are a supporter of the process, support what we now have and move forward with the health team which will deliver this."
After the announcement of the site, Dubbo election candidates Josh Black and Kate Richardson came forward with their criticisms. The candidates called the announcement a "stunt" and deemed the location "inappropriate" for a rehab centre.
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