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Medical centre? Sorry, not in this building

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The Raffles Medical Group's plans to expand into Orchard Road in a big way has met with a hiccup - the authorities have turned down its application to convert seven floors of Thong Sia Building into a medical centre.

A spokesman for the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) told The Straits Times it rejected the application after evaluating the effect such a change in use will have on the area.

She said: "We evaluated the new proposed use taking into consideration specific site context, the impact of the proposed use on the amenity and surrounding uses, and the local road infrastructure capacity in that area, and decided to turn down the proposal."

The Straits Times understands that the lack of sufficient parking facilities in the building, the already congested traffic conditions in the area, and complaints from residents living there, all contributed to the URA's decision.

The decision may have been influenced by the closure of the nearby Cairnhill Place last year, removing 820 carpark spaces in the area.

A spokesman for RMG said it has submitted a revised proposal that it thinks addresses these concerns.
The spokesman did not elaborate on the changes.

RMG is the latest health-care player to fix its eye on the downtown Orchard Road shopping belt.

Competition along that stretch includes medical clinics and centres at Mount Elizabeth, Paragon, Ngee Ann City and Lucky Plaza.

In recent years, new players have also set up shop in buildings such as Pacific Plaza and Triple-One Somerset.

Announcing its purchase of the seven-storey podium of Thong Sia Building in February 2011, the group said it "has a significant number of patients who live in Districts 9, 10 and 11" who find a medical centre at Thong Sia Building convenient.

It added: "The area is also well-known as a foreign visitor hub, and the centre is well-placed to provide medical services for such visitors."

The planned medical centre was to have opened by the end of last year.

RMG had paid $92 million for the 42,668 sq ft of space where it had planned to set up a range of specialist clinics as well as a 24-hour emergency outpatient centre.

Converting the shops into clinics would cost another $10 million to $15 million.

It wants to have clinics for children, cancer, heart, skin, fertility, surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, ear, nose and throat, and dentistry, supported by imaging facilities and a laboratory.

Patients who need inpatient care would be warded at Raffles Hospital in North Bridge Road.

RMG has been seeing strong growth in its foreign patients. Numbers grew by 20 per cent last year. Foreigners now make up a third of its patients.

Aside from Indonesia, which accounts for almost half of Singapore's non-resident patients, RMG has tapped into several non-traditional markets, such as Russia and Mongolia.

But it needs to expand its clinics to cater to this growing demand for its services.

RMG said it "intends to work with the relevant authorities to amend its plans, so as to accommodate their concerns".

It submitted the amended plans at the end of last year, and hopes to get a reply from the authorities within the next couple of months.

Credit from The Straits Times - 25 February 2013
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