Sunday 29 June 2008

Higgins set to delay Beacon development

Joe Higgins, the former TD and Socialist Party leader, plans to appeal a decision to grant planning permission for a €250 million private hospital in Limerick.

Beacon Medical Group (BMG) received planning permission to build a 183-bedroom hospital in the grounds of the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Dooradoyle two weeks ago. However, Higgins and a number of local residents plan to appeal the decision to An Bord Pleanála.

Building work on the hospital was due to start in September, but will be delayed until the appeal is complete. The construction process will take up to two and a half years.

‘‘We are not entirely surprised [by the appeal], but we are disappointed that what we believe is a critical and important healthcare infrastructure will be delayed as a result. There is an acute need for more beds,” said Michael Cullen, chief executive of Beacon.

Higgins, who lost his seat in the general election last year, has also objected to a decision to award Beacon planning permission for a private hospital in the grounds of Beaumont Hospital in Dublin. Hewas the sole objector to that project.

Cullen said that the ability of one person to delay a project was ‘‘an example of democracy gone mad’’. He said that the hospital project would create 500 high-salaried jobs, and formed part of government policy to increase the supply of hospital beds.

Beacon has asked An Bord Pleanála to dismiss Higgins’ objection on the basis that it was ‘‘vexatious and purely based on ideology. The remit of An Bord Pleanála is to hear appeals based on planning matters, not the political and ideological objections of a failed politician,” he said.

Higgins said he appealed the Beaumont decision because the proposed site for the Beacon hospital was originally earmarked for an extension of psychiatric services. Beacon’s planned hospital in Cork also received the green light from local planners, but that decision was appealed to An Bord Pleanála.

The government strategy of co-locating private hospitals beside public hospitals is designed to reduce the number of public hospital beds occupied by private patients.

Eight public hospitals were earmarked for private facilities, but project agreements have been signed for only three projects spearheaded by Beacon.

Sunday Business Post

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