AMBITIOUS plans to bring a new health centre and housing to the heart of Witham have been hailed as a “once in a generation” opportunity.

Property firm NewRiver this week revealed its proposals for phase two of the Newlands Shopping Centre regeneration.

Blueprints include town centre housing and a new health facility for GPs, as well as further space to accommodate the introduction of new services into the town.

The £230,000 first phase of the revamp took place last year at the centre, which boasts more than 20 outlets.

The second stage will also boost parking in the town if it gets the go-ahead from planners.

Chief executive Allan Lockhart said: “NewRiver continues to be committed to the long-term success of the Newlands Centre and Witham.

“By bringing in new community services and homes into the heart of the town, we will be helping Witham to thrive. There is an acknowledged over-supply of retail floor space across the UK and for those prepared to swiftly embrace change, there is an opportunity to accelerate the successful regeneration of our towns and cities.”

NewRiver is yet to formally submit plans to Braintree Council, but says it is carrying out a pre-application process before a full proposal is submitted.

The Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group is drawing up plans for health services that could be based on the site.

Witham MP Priti Patel, who has been campaigning for a new healthcare facility in the town, met Mr Lockhart to go through the plans.

She welcomed the news, saying: “This is a once in a generation opportunity to increase capacity to accommodate new patients from our growing population and have more services available locally.

“For years I have been working and campaigning to get our town a new healthcare centre and I am pleased that these plans are now coming to fruition.

“With NewRiver, the NHS and local GPs working together with me, we have taken this scheme forward and an important milestone is coming up, as the planning process begins.

“We are now approaching the point where the local community will soon be consulted on the development plans and it is important that everyone locally has their say.

“With so many high streets across the country under pressure, this regeneration gives our town a chance to stand out as a success story.”

The Conservative MP added: “I will continue to work with NewRiver and others to secure new investment, businesses and services in Witham.”