A FORMER soccer pitch in Cork’s suburbs has been rezoned for a 100-bed step-down unit that will help free up hospital beds.
The city council vote on Monday night cleared the way for planners to grant planning permission yesterday for the Health Service Executive (HSE) facility on a site off Farranlea Road in Wilton.
Councillors, who have repeatedly warned developers to keep their hands off sports grounds, defended the rezoning vote. And they warned developers eyeing other sports grounds not to the view the move as a precedent.
The vote was taken after the wording of the rezoning motion was tightened to ensure that only a 100-bed step-down care facility could be built on the site. Step-down units are designed to provide less intensive care for patients than intensive hospital units.
Cllr Fergal Dennehy (FF) said, in principal, he is not in favour of rezoning sports grounds but that each case should be examined on its merits.
His colleague Cllr Tom O’Driscoll said this vote should not be seen by developers — “people who can’t take no for an answer” — as a signal of a change in council policy on sports ground zoning.
Cllr Damian Wallace (FF) said the council should in no way be seen as the instrument for refusing a crucial health facility.
“We are crying out for such beds,” he said.
Fine Gael Cllr John Buttimer pointed out that no objections have ever been made against the health facility plans.
“Farranlea residents support the project. There is a severe reluctance amongst councillors to rezone sports ground at a whim,” he said
“But this will not be a commercial development. It is an essential element of the health care strategy to ease beds pressure on Cork University Hospital and the Mercy.”
However, Green Party’s Chris O’Leary, socialist Mick Barry and independent Dave McCarthy voted against the rezoning. Mr O’Leary said the vote would “open a can of worms”.
Mr McCarthy said he could not understand why valuable city land zoned for sport was being lost while other HSE sites, like Our Lady’s Hospital, lie idle.
Cllr Terry Shannon (FF), who voted to rezone, warned the HSE to move quickly.
“We have provided this site. We want to see bricks and mortar. We want to see people in there benefiting from this,” he said.
The Farranlea Road step down facility is one of 12 planned by the Government under a €112 million investment to ease pressure on public hospital beds.
In Cork, a 50-bed unit is being built on the grounds of St Mary’s Orthopaedic Hospital in Gurranabraher and a 100-bed unit is being built in Ballincollig.
Another unit at St Finbarr’s Hospital opened recently on a phased basis.