Sunday 17 October 2010

Children's hospital could be delayed by planning row

A forthcoming An Bord Pleanála examination of plans to build the €650m new national children's hospital at Dublin's Mater complex will have to consider what alternatives to the chosen site are out there, according to developer Noel Smyth.

As the row over the resignation of head of the national children's hospital board, Philip Lynch, intensified yesterday, Smyth revealed that he has not been contacted by health minister Mary Harney or any representatives of the project to discuss his plans for an alternative site since Lynch's departure.

However, he vowed to keep going with his proposals to build the hospital on a site close to the Naas Road, which he claims could be built on a "not for profit" basis and for €150m less than was planned.

"The position is that the minister is treating this as a government decision having been taken, meaning the hospital is going on the Mater site," he told the Sunday Tribune. "The fact that the matter is gone to An Bord Pleanála means there is an obligation to consider and assess what alternatives are out there. I don't think it will speed up the issue at all."

"When they cut the ribbon to the entrance of the new Mater, then I'll start thinking of withdrawing my offer... If others are out there and they have got better ideas, we would be more than happy to row in behind them."

In a statement issued on Friday night, Lynch maintained that "my decision to resign was my own," and warned of serious funding gaps and planning and design challenges at the controversial Mater Hospital site.

But speaking on RTE's Marian Finucane show yesterday, Harney reiterated that she had sought Lynch's resignation having lost confidence in his capacity "to chair the board at this point to take this matter forward."

She said he had gone out "reviewing green field sites" which clearly "wasn't appropriate."

"(Mr Lynch) did fantastic work and I want to pay tribute to him. But it came to a stage where obviously Mr Lynch had gone outside the mandate of the board," she added.

Harney said she had met with Noel Smyth previously, but added that it was "very important" to have a hospital which is owned by the State.

"The mandate of this board was to build a hospital at this site," she said. "The train has left the station.""

But broadcaster Gay Byrne, a member of the board of the children's medical and research foundation at Crumlin hospital, also told the programme that Lynch "rather significantly to my mind... resigned or was fired" a very short time after meeting with members of that board.

Among the concerns about the Mater site was that 1,000 underground parking spaces would be taken up by 1,500 staff at the hospital, he said. Another "awful allegation" which he said was "going around" is that international experts consulted on the hospital plans did so over the phone and never visited the Mater site, he said.

Under the current proposals for the Mater site, €110m of the €650m cost will need to come from fundraising and philanthropy which has yet to be secured. Information and communication technology in the new hospital could cost an additional €100m or more.

An amendment to the planning and development acts enacted last July, healthcare projects of strategic and national importance – such as the hospital – means they can be submitted directly to An Bord Pleanála rather than first being submitted to a local authority.

Sunday Tribune

No comments: