Campaigners against the previous £800m Overdale hospital project have tentatively welcomed the "common sense" approach of the new Government – but hope Ministers will soon "come clean" on cost.
Chief Minister Kristina Moore's Government confirmed on Wednesday that their preferred way forward was to build a new inpatients facility at Overdale and an outpatients’ facility in town, with a 'Health Village' in St. Saviour.
Advocate Olaf Blakeley, who was a spokesperson for residents of the Westmount area, proposed a ‘requête’ in February 2021 which rejected the then-Government’s offer to buy parish land around the People’s Park and Westmount Road.
Although the Government later issued compulsory purchase orders to acquire the parish land, they were never enacted.
This week, the new Government which supports building a smaller hospital at Overdale than the previous campus proposal, and constructing a new ‘ambulatory’ unit in Kensington Place and Gloucester Street.
Responding to the Government's announcement this week, Advocate Blakeley said: “For my part, I am very pleased that at last common sense has prevailed and a sensible solution has been found.
“In my opinion, it was extremely short-sighted of the previous Government to continue to believe in and press for the so-called ‘health campus’ at Overdale once the requête was served which stopped the Parish of St. Helier negotiating the sale of land.
“The requête and the protests by interested people against the hospital project succeeded in derailing the development for long enough for the whole matter to be considered afresh by a new elected States.”
He added: “I have always supported the building of a new hospital. The island needs a new hospital. It is needed for the public of the Island. It is also needed by those who work so hard in the health industry as they deserve a building which is modern and which makes their difficult jobs easier.
“However, I have also always said that, no matter how desperate the need for a hospital, the public should not be ‘gun-to-the-head-forced’ into accepting a wholly harebrained scheme either because time has run out or the will to find a better solution has been gnawed at and eventually destroyed."
Pictured: Advocate Blakeley joined other Westmount residents in opposing the felling of trees around the People's Park.
He continued: “Again, in my opinion, it should have been obvious to all that building such an important building on the top of a hill to which access is made via winding narrow roads was misguided.
“The idea of developing the town site is a sensible one and should have been done a long time ago. While I accept previous applications for planning permissions were rejected, that should not have been a barrier to development because the States could have done what they attempted to do with the Overdale site: change the Island Plan so that planning applications would be compliant.
“I know this saga has been going on for an incredibly long time and that much of the public are probably fed up but ultimately, I think we are now almost there. It is a great shame that so much money has been spent and wasted but better that than giving up and settling for an inappropriate development in an inappropriate location.”
Meanwhile, Peter Funk, from the Friends of Our New Hospital group, which campaigned against the Overdale 'health campus' plan, said he was "quietly encouraged" by the latest plans, but added that " there is still a hell of a lot more information to be provided".
"Spreading the facilities across several sites is a good idea, probably the only idea at this stage, and is much more manageable, but there’s no clarity about how much it will cost," he explained.
Former political leader of the Our Hospital project, Deputy Lyndon Farnham, said he is willing to support the new multi-site plan on condition that the Government “comes clean” about its cost.
He argues that ministers need to prove their assertions that the new preferred option is more affordable than the project he led, which in August 2021 was estimated to cost £804.5m.
If they cannot, they need to admit that it will cost more, he says, adding that he may well still back it.
However, supporters say that rising inflation means that direct comparisons between the two schemes are impossible to make.
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