Thursday, 16 June 2016

The New Hospital: Some Comments.

The New Hospital: Some Comments.

From the FAQ on the website:

“Why wasn’t this Extended Site option considered in the first place? “

“Large height buildings were considered during 2012, but once building height guidance had been obtained from the Planning Authority, all subsequent designs met this guidance. The reason the project team focused on the extended site option was a result of the insights obtained from States Members that the hospital is a “special case” and a once in a generation decision, which means that some flexibility against planning requirements could be sought within reason.”

But the site went live in late 2015, a long time after 2012. Couldn’t the review have gone back before then and suggested it as a “special case”? It seems extraordinary that it didn’t, until you consider the “easy option” of the People’s Park.

While that was in the frame, there was no need to make any special pleading regarding height. And why did height not get reviewed when Senator Green took over? Let’s not forget the timeline – in October 2013, a dual site was on the cards. The later look at many sites only took place after Senator Green took over in November 2014. This reason doesn’t really stand up to the chronology.

“You have spent a lot of money so far on reviewing sites, was this a waste of money?”

“We have spent money undertaking a robust assessment of a number of the sites on the shortlist. This is industry standard best practice in large capital projects. We have had to do this to exclude the feasibility of alternative options. Therefore, the significant part of the expenditure had to be made, although inevitably some will have been abortive relating to design of specific sites.”

Now I have no objection to following industry standard best practice, but wouldn’t it also have been a good idea to revisit the height consideration? How good was an assessment that worked within guidelines on height that now can be superseded?

It seems that some money certainly has been wasted because a higher build could have been an option alongside the other four options. Clearly it came back into the frame, but why couldn’t it have done sooner? That would have saved time and money. Were the Council of Ministers so blinkered they couldn’t think outside the box until the People’s Park was turned down, and suddenly necessity became the mother of high rise invention?

“How will current services be affected by this proposal?”

“We have started to work with clinical and other stakeholders to identify the impact this proposal would have, service by service. For example, some services will move off the General Hospital site in the interim period but return when the hospital is built, others will move and not return. Some will not move at all. The precise balance of these changes is still to be determined but our primary concern is that we will not undertake this proposal unless we are certain that services could be safely re-provided.”

This is interesting because it suggests elements of a dual site are still lurking in the background. It is likely that some services may relocate to Overdale, and if they are not returning, it is rather like a partial and smaller dual site option.

The Minister’s statement to the States is also interesting for various reasons:

“And as I’ve said before, our excellent and hardworking staff are trying to provide a first-class service within the confines of Victorian infrastructure. We need a new hospital to deliver the healthcare that the people of Jersey deserve and would wish to see for themselves and their families.”

In fact, it is the 1960s build that is really not fit for purpose and not the Victorian part of the building. The 1960s were notorious for bad builds which have not stood the test of time. It is here that you find concrete decay, bad wiring, and plasterboard breaking off, and ceiling tiles coming loose and cracks in walls.

Problems which relate to 1960’s buildings are often associated with;
• Asbestos insulation and asbestos containing materials
• Single pipe heating systems
• Lack of adequate zoning of heating circuits
• Full fresh air ventilation systems
• Single glazing
• High alumina cement
• Panel cladding systems
• System building techniques
• Deep plan buildings

The Victorians, on the other hand, built very well. Victoria College is a “Victorian infrastructure”, and no one has suggested tearing that down. In particular, late Victorian hospitals buildings demonstrate resilience to overheating because they are heavyweight and often have high ceilings. They potentially form a more climate resilient resource than might be expected.

This is not the case with more modern buildings, which tend to overheat, especially in summer. The report "Living with Environmental Change" particular considers the danger to the elderly and young, especially in acute wards, and how the 1950s and 1960s builds are particularly poor.

“Members of this Assembly and the people of Jersey told me that building the hospital on the People’s Park was a step too far. That facts were never going to triumph over emotion.”

That’s a very biased point of view, and one that Christian May would, I am sure, dispute. It seems a false dichotomy to cast aspersions on the opposition as being “emotional” rather than just looking at the “facts”.

In fact, there was a robust case against using the People’s Park, both emotional and factual. It could be argued that the Gradgrindian view of mere facts and figures was blinkered and did not take into account the social consequences for the community of St Helier.

For those who don’t know their Dickens, Mr Thomas Gradgrind is the notorious school board Superintendent in Dickens's novel Hard Times who is dedicated to the pursuit of profitable enterprise. His name is now used generically to refer to someone who is hard and only concerned with a soulless cold facts and numbers; he is inflexibly utilitarian. This seems rather like the planners who decided on the People's Park.

“During the ensuing engagement period, the decision was made to remove People’s Park from consideration when it became apparent that this was not acceptable to the public, or to the majority of the States Assembly.”

That’s an interesting comment which is not entirely true. Had the majority of the States assembly approved the scheme, past precedents show that being acceptable to the public never features strongly? I suspect it would have been railroaded through like lots of other measures which have not been acceptable to the public. It was the possibility of a bruising defeat in the States which swung the strategic withdrawal, and not the public opinion on the matter.

And finally, I’d like to comment on this:

“This involves developing the areas of the current site occupied by the Gwyneth Huelin Wing and Peter Crill House, together with some adjacent properties on Kensington Place.”

A lot has been made in the media for the need to compulsory purchase part of Kensington Place, but what is forgotten, perhaps conveniently, is that the original People’s Park proposal included compulsory purchase of those properties for its “compensatory park space”, along with even more purchase of private land at Gas Place to extend the park there. The image above from the previous plans demonstrates this clearly.

The cost of this part of the venture, if we had been able to get a breakdown, could have been no more than the People’s Park option, and almost certainly less. Of course, the money may have run out before then, and the “compensatory park space” remained a pipedream, put in  to sell the "People's Park" site idea. That's a very cynical view, but as Sir Humphrey Appleby noted: "A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist".

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