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Hospital: ‘Indecision is embarrassing the Island’

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THE ‘consistent indecision’ that has plagued the Future Hospital project is ‘embarrassing’ the Island, the head of the Institute of Directors said, as he called for ‘five key questions’ to be answered.

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The new hospital has been beset by delays for a number of years and the project could be thrown back to square one this week if States Members opt to rescind the decision to build on Gloucester Street.

IoD chairman Chris Clark said that a number of Island businesses were being affected by the uncertainty surrounding the build and that it was ‘imperative’ the project progressed and did not get thrown back to the drawing board.

He has written to ministers setting out the five ‘key questions’.

Mr Clark said expert analysis had found that Gloucester Street could be used for a new hospital and that a number of Island businesses had committed to supporting the project.

Last year, a policy development board set up by Chief Minister John Le Fondré found that Gloucester Street ‘could deliver’ a new facility, but that other options should be reinvestigated – namely Overdale and the Waterfront.

Mr Clark said: ‘To our understanding of the facts as they stand, Island businesses have committed to the project and supported government, developing and designing a wide range of enabling works; some of which are designed, whilst others are near to completion, but all with the aim of freeing up space on the Gloucester Street site to build the new hospital.

‘Our current government have refused planning permission for a second time, albeit after the enabling works have progressed, yet they are now gearing up to remove the Gloucester Street site from any future plans, proposing alternatives which are apparently fuelled to appease public opinion, rather than based on the professional support or consultation of the team contracted to deliver the project or working at the Hospital.’

A total of £41 million has already been spent on developing the plans but Mr Clark said this impact went beyond the simple spend to date.

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‘It does not consider the thousands of man hours underwritten by both local and off-Island businesses in their attempt to secure this project,’ he said. ‘We dread to think of the broader, negative economic and reputational impact that the years of indecision have incurred for Jersey and the longer-term impact to both the hospital service and staffing challenges this will no doubt have in the next three to five years, let alone beyond.

‘We feel we have a duty to flag that this consistent indecision is not only an embarrassment for the Island, but more importantly, the process now leaves numerous Island businesses in a quandary.’

States Members are due to debate the future of the hospital project on Tuesday.

IoD questions asked by Mr Clark

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- Is the Gloucester Street site off the table for good or simply for the duration of this current government?

- If the hospital team cannot build on the People’s Park site or Overdale, then where can they build in St Helier, whilst being mindful of infrastructure needs – power, mains, sewage, suitable amenity space and accessible, connected roads?

- If we are going back to square one, how long will it take and how much will it cost to look for an alternative site which can then be guaranteed to get planning permission?

- Whilst this new process is under way, can anyone from the Health Department or the Future Hospital team disclose how much they believe it will cost to maintain the current hospital for another ten years? (Realistically, if it has taken us seven years to get to this point already, I can’t see us getting back to this point any sooner, looking forward.)

- Finally, who is so against revisiting the existing site when all other research to date has failed to find a better location?

Mr Clark's full letter

Following on from your front-page article advising that ‘all sites – including the People’s Park – should be put back up for consideration’ we thought it might be prudent for the IoD to raise our heads above the parapets to endeavour to strive for common sense to prevail. Admittedly when it comes to the Hospital, one of the most contentious subjects in recent years, one person’s ‘common sense’ is often a red rag to another. We shall endeavour to tread with care, whilst having the best interest of Islanders at heart!

From what we understand, developments regarding the ‘new hospital project’ have now entered their 8th year. We find ourselves once more facing a decision fuelled by politics, costs and noise concerns on one side versus what appears to be a total disregard for the voice of the Island’s public on the other, what is the decision at hand? In short, do we continue with the current site, work with planners to complete the project that was agreed by the former ‘States of Jersey’, or, do we shelve the past 7 years work (and investment) to start all over again to fulfil the current agenda of the ‘Government of Jersey’?

To cite some facts (we know facts can be unpopular in today’s political landscape).

• The projected budget has been agreed at £466m.

• More than £41m has already spent as at the end of last year (over the last 7 years).

• It should be noted that this sum covers the direct cost to the public purse. It does not consider the thousands of man hours underwritten by both local and off island businesses in their attempt to secure this project. We dread to think of the broader, negative economic and reputational impact that the years of indecision have incurred for Jersey and the longer-term impact to both the hospital service and staffing challenges this will no doubt have in the next 3-5 years, let alone beyond…

Now, whilst not wishing to open old wounds (and no doubt reflect on the pain of those involved in the Hospital debate over the years) if we cast our minds back to 2012, the amazing year when London hosted the Olympics, this was when the current process commenced...

• The then Health Minister, Ann Pryke, announced plans for a new hospital, namely a dual-site hospital spread between the existing location and Overdale and work commenced to design that scheme. This may explain the location of the soon to be completed power sub-station on the inner road and the considerable drainage works which went in to the corner of People’s Park back in 2013/2014.

We then had an election and we all know how disruptive that can be to the best laid plans.

• In 2015 the Island appointed a new Health Minister, Senator Andrew Green, he announced “he was dropping the two site plan in favour of one location”. A lengthy (and expensive) site evaluation and engagement process followed before it was announced it would be in St Helier.

• Health Minister Andrew Green announced the Hospital would be built on the current site as it was ‘ideal’ having spent circa £5m of tax payers’ money on a search.

• In 2016, a scrutiny review said the Waterfront might provide a better location, but Senator Green decided to continue with the current site. Politicians voted 34 in favour to 3 against, with Andrew Green having already withdrawn the People’s Park site following the ‘Hands off the People’s Park’ campaign.

• In 2017, the then Environment Minister, Steve Luce rejects the ensuing planning application to build on the current site, after an independent inquiry.

• In 2018, revised plans are submitted.

Then we had another election.

I remember my IoD speech to our Members at this point, reflecting on the fact that “we had gone from not knowing where, to knowing where, to not knowing how it was to be paid for, to knowing how it was to be paid for, then not knowing how it was to be staffed nor what functions it was to provide, nor how large it was going to be, only for it to go back to not knowing where it was to go again.” ‘Frustration for all involved’ is the polite way to put it.

• So… 2018, A Policy Development Board is set up to review the previous decisions. That Board concluded that the current site, ‘…could deliver an acute general hospital facility as approved by the States in P.110/2016…’

• Then in 2019, the latest Planning Minister announced his decision and refuses planning permission to build Jersey's new hospital on the current site.

Subsequently, if one monitors the media, you could conclude that a robust campaign to stop anything being built on the current site ensues, with the Chief Minister due to bring a proposition to the States to reopen the location debate, he is pipped at the post by Deputy Labey.

Meanwhile, Assistant Chief Minister Chris Taylor believes there is a majority of support within the Council of Ministers and growing support among States Members to build Jersey's new hospital at Overdale; local elderly residents disagree.

So, coming back to the here and now, the Constable of St Helier has lodged an amendment to Deputy Labey’s proposition to prevent a hospital being built on green space in St Helier – effectively ruling out both the Overdale option along with People’s Park. Some of our media appear to want a French company to get involved, even though they previously failed to tender for the project (had we mentioned that a formal tender process had been undertaken and a local business appointed?).

So where are we today? To our understanding of the facts as they stand, Island businesses have committed to the project and supported Government, developing and designing a wide range of enabling works; some of which are designed whilst others are near to completion but all with the aim of freeing up space on the Gloucester Street site to build the new Hospital.

Our current Government have refused planning permission for a second time, albeit after the enabling works have progressed, yet they are now gearing up to remove the Gloucester Street site from any future plans, proposing alternatives which are apparently fuelled to appease public opinion, rather than based on the professional support or consultation of the team contracted to deliver the project or working at the Hospital.

To this end, and having covered the history, as the IoD, we feel we have a duty to flag that this consistent indecision is not only an embarrassment for the Island, but more importantly, the process now leaves numerous Island businesses in a quandary, therefore I would like to pose, publicly, several key questions which we would be grateful for someone to publicly respond to, enabling the broader public to get under the rhetoric and politics and back to some good old fashioned fact based decision making:

1. Is the Gloucester Street site off the table for good or simply for the duration of this current Government?

2. If the hospital team cannot build on the People’s Park site or Overdale, then where can they build in St Helier, whilst being mindful of infrastructure needs - power, mains, sewage, suitable amenity space and accessible, connected roads?

3. If we are going back to square one, how long will it take and how much will it cost to look for an alternative site which can then be guaranteed to get planning permission?

4. Whilst this new process is underway, can anyone from the Health Department or the Future Hospital team disclose how much they believe it will cost to maintain the current hospital for another 10 years? (Realistically, if it has taken us 7 years to get to this point already, I can’t see us getting back to this point any sooner, looking forward).

5. Finally, who is so against revisiting the existing site when all other research to date has failed to find a better location?

From memory (and we apologise if we are incorrect) but the IoD cannot recall seeing any output from any scrutiny panel since the government came to power – but we understand that Deputy Pamplin’s Panel has been working on something. We believe the Future Hospital, Corporate Services, Environment, Housing and Infrastructure as well as the Economic Affairs panels should all consider the questions above and give clear advice before any further decisions are taken.

In closing, we would like to remind everyone involved in one small yet important point, whilst some spaces are used by many, the Hospital is used by all at many times throughout our lives. We feel that it is imperative that the project moves forward and does not go ‘back to the drawing board’ if we are to see a Hospital ‘topping out ceremony’ this side of 2025.

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