The Minister in charge of the future hospital project has said campaigners’ fears about the “potential desecration of great swathes of People’s Park” to make way for a £15m highway are unfounded, maintaining that his intention is “not to lose a single tree”.
Deputy Chief Minister Senator Lyndon Farnham’s comments came after campaigners began tying red ribbons to trees surrounding People’s Park and Westmount Road this morning to highlight the natural features of the area they believed would be lost if States Members approve the Government’s proposed access route to the new hospital on Monday.
But Senator Farnham said in a media briefing on Friday afternoon that their concerns were based on “misinformation” and that, out of the 71 access options considered by the hospital project group, the one with the minimum environmental impact had been chosen.
Pictured: Some of the ribbons tied so far.
He pledged that the trees along the top and bottom of the park would remain “untouched” and that any trees that did have to go would be replaced. However, he maintained that the team would try to avoid this “at all costs.”
He said that there would, in fact, be an “opportunity to increase the recreational space on the other side of the road and actually grow the park.”
Senator Farnham also noted that some pétanque pitches could have to move, while Our Hospital Project Director said the children’s play area was also at risk.
It was confirmed, however, that three homes would definitely have to make way for the highway. Parking to the south of People’s Park - apart from disabled bays - will also be removed to create public access.
Ultimately, Senator Farnham said details of exactly what else would have to go would emerge at the planning application stage, which would follow a design process he described as “open and engaging.”
Pictured: The children's playground could be at risk, Project Director Richard Bannister said.
Among the criticisms levelled by campaigners and the Future Hospital Review Panel was that politicians will be asked to vote to approve the new highway on Monday without having detailed information on its final specifications.
The crucial vote was brought forward by a week after Senator Farnham requisitioned a special States Assembly meeting.
During the debate, the Future Hospital Review Panel will be arguing that politicians should approve the preliminary outline design of the preferred access before any engineering work can start.
On Friday, hospital project team said this would impact the timeline they are working to by between 12 and 15 months and create “uncertainty” that would threaten contracts and possibly push up costs by as much as 30%.
The Future Hospital Review Panel, which released a report on Friday detailing all of their concerns, also noted that the widening of the road was primarily being undertaken to help construction vehicles access Overdale while the new hospital is built.
Senator Farnham and Mr Bannister denied this, stating that the highway project was based on a “long-term” need.
As well as the visual campaign, Friday also saw some Westmount residents threaten a legal challenge to the project.
Spokesperson for the group Advocate Olaf Blakeley said a requête - an ancient way of forcing a Parish Assembly - was being signed and would soon be served on the Constable of St. Helier to ensure any purchases of Parish land cannot go through until more information about the proposed access route to the new hospital is received.
Describing Senator Farnham's decision to force an early vote as "unacceptable conduct", Advocate Blakeley said it was "wholly unacceptable that any members of government could be requested to vote in favour of a proposition which is vacuous of content."
The residents' requête states that the States Assembly agreed the acquisition by compulsory purchase of Parish land in November 2020 based on a drawing that didn’t precisely define which part of People’s Park, the century-old Westmount bowling green with its clubhouse, carpark, gardens and workshops, the historic rocky outcrop on Gallows Hill, and other green spaces, would be affected.
“At no time has the Parish Assembly been given either the opportunity to consider sufficient detail of what the acquisition will involve in the way of vehicular, amenity, cultural or community impact or the opportunity to give its approval either to said acquisition itself or the possible financial or other terms (if any) on which it might take place,” the legal notice reads.
“Having learned what information can be deduced from such material as has come into the public domain, very many Parishioners are of the view that the proposed access route to the new hospital, and the works associated therewith, will cause disproportionate and irreparable damage to what is one of the few distinctive and important parts of the island’s capital, and should be rigorously opposed.”
Read Express on Monday for more analysis ahead of the hospital highway debate…
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