Wednesday, 10 January 2018

A Minister in need of life support?

A Minister in need of life support?

In the recent debate in December 2017, Andrew Green waxed positively about financing the new hospital He said:

“Everyone agrees that Jersey needs this new hospital and I am committed to delivering it. We need to work together to see how we can best provide Jersey with this essential facility on the agreed location. If the planning inspector makes some recommendations to the Minister, and the Minister follows those through, then we have to alter the outline of the building, but within the budget, within the £446 million that will have been agreed. We know where we are going.”

But do we? The Planning Report has come out and rejected the outline of the building. It cannot be just "tweaked" to work. Deputy Steve Luce said of the plans that they are "is not just close" but totally rejected.

The Planning Inspector, Philip Staddon, said the new hospital building would be ‘grossly out of scale… an over dominant, obtrusive and alien structure’. The inspector added that the site area for the new building is ‘far too small’ for the floor space proposed, and described the design as ‘fundamentally unacceptable’. He said ‘these are not measures that can be finessed away by clever design’ at a later stage.

It is not just a case of “altering the outline of the building”. The Inspector makes this very clear in the extracts above. Moreover, as the report notes:

“The Applicant asserts that the Minister’s test for this first ‘Outline’ stage is whether the proposals are ‘broadly acceptable’. They do not need to be wholly acceptable, as the Minister’s second stage (considering ‘reserved matters’) provides for appropriate refinement.”

Evidently, even the outline stage is not good enough, which is what Andrew Green means by following through recommendations.

On size, the Inspector notes that:

“A useful comparator here is the office development under construction at the Esplanade, which are about 25.5 metres tall (Buildings 4 and 5). The proposed hospital would be some 17.5 metres higher i.e. almost another ‘tall building’ on top (defined as 18 metres high in the policy).”

And he also points out the somewhat misleading nature of the mock-ups included in the plans, which had been noted by others:

“Some assistance is provided by the Applicant’s illustrative material, although it is just illustrative and some of it appears to shows a building which is notably smaller than the dimensional parameters stated.”

He also sees the design process as proceeding the wrong way:

“The ‘design’ process appears to have been a clinical briefled approach, with a subservient follow on process of iterating and mitigating the crude blocks, to lessen the impact and seek ways of achieving some degree of integration with the existing townscape. By contrast, an urban design-led approach would establish the maximum parameters first and then seek to accommodate the building within them.”

In other words, you should work out the design parameters that would be acceptable first, and then see how well the needs of the hospital can be accommodated with it.

It is the same kind of back to front thinking which plagues the Independent Lifeboat Group – as one blogger has noted: “The biggest weakness of the project is that instead of building an institution and recruiting for it, they are taking Andy Hibbs as the starting point and trying to build their new institution around him.” A look at the insurance policy of Southport Lifeboat, which is –pretty much a gold standard in this respect, shows that their insurers will only allow boat crew up to age 50, and looking at the business case first would have revealed this.

The Inspector notes that as a result of designing with a “clinical” rather than “urban” approach, “the consequence of this approach is that, if the site if not big enough, the‘design’, will inevitably create tensions with the Island Plan policies that control the form of new development in Jersey.”

And he notes that:

“Overall, I consider that the clinical brief led approach results in a poor and unsympathetic design. The proposal’s excessive mass, height and scale do not follow the principles of good design and would not respect or enhance the character and appearance of this part of St Helier. I assess that the proposal would conflict with the Island Plan’s design policies SP 7 and GD 7 and with the Design Guidance for St Helier SPG (2013)”

His final conclusion is that:

“The critical issue here is not the need for a new hospital facility, but whether the application proposal represents the one and only vehicle that could deliver it. This raises questions about two matters that are beyond the scope of the Inquiry. The first concerns site selection and the comparative merits of alternative sites. The second concerns the ‘brief’, which is currently premised on a single phase comprehensive new build project.”

Some questions should be asked of Jersey Property Holdings who submitted the plans. This is the second occasion in which plans for large buildings have been sent back as deeply flawed, the other being Les Quennevais School.

It is becoming apparent that either they do not have the expertise for these projects, or where they draw upon external expertise such as Gleeds Management Services Ltd in this instance; it is not up to the mark. The Future Hospital Team should also face questions on deficiencies in their own expertise. Why did they all get it so wrong? The Planning advice already noted that: "It is not yet understood why a larger footprint could not be used, which could offset a lowering of the tallest elements."

Chris Taylor, Constable of St John, in the December 2017 debate said: “We are in a period of uncertainty. We are awaiting a planning inspector’s report and recommendation. How can we approve a business plan which could be basically overturned should the planning inspector find in a different way to that which we hope.”

But he was criticised by Treasury Minister, Senator Alan Maclean, who said: “Now the difference between the hospital project and Les Quennevais School, which was referred to a moment ago, is that there is contingency funding built in to deal with just about any recommendation that the inspector might seek to come up with. If there was a catastrophic change from the inspector’s report then indeed that would require a decision of this Assembly, but I can reassure Members that there is considerable contingency built in to deal with any recommendations that the inspector may seek to bring forward.”

Quite what contingency deals with an outright refusal, and a criticism that the whole approach taken was wrong remains to be seen.

Deputy Simon Bree also sounded a note of caution on the funding: “It is quite bizarre that this Assembly is being asked to debate and vote on a proposition that we do not even know whether or not the hospital, as outlined in the Outline Business Case, and the funding that is being supported by that Outline Business Case, can even be built.”

Senator Green, in the meantime, has now said:

“I am naturally disappointed that the outline planning application has not been approved. The inspector has agreed this is the right location for a new hospital, but that the proposed site is too small for the size of building that’s needed. Complex planning permissions of this kind are often the subject of prolonged discussion.”

“I will now take time, with the project team, to study the detail of the inspector’s report so we can plan the next steps.”

But this is still spin on the rejected plans. The words ‘right location' never enters the planning inspector's summary - he simply does not dispute that St. Helier may be a suitable location for a hospital - but not this site:

“My assessment has focused on the Planning merits of the specific application proposal. It has not scrutinised wider matters such as the scheme cost, the decision making processes that led to the setting of the project brief, or the selection of the application site as the preferred location for the development.

First the fiasco of the People’s Park site, and now this. It is no wonder that Deputy Russell Labey thinks that Senator Green’s standing is damaged, and he should resign. But we are now in an election year, and who would really want to take over such a poisoned chalice?

Rather like Theresa May as Prime Minister with the Brexit deadline, Senator Green will stay on, if for no other reason than no one else wants to get any blame this close to an election.

Addressing the the design of the £466 million development, Deputy Luce explained his rejection of the scheme: "My view, and shared by the inspector, has been that the plan has been led by clinicians and not by designers. Although their input is a great need, the size and design cannot be directed by them as planning issues will arise."

Back to the drawing board, and the Minister for Health is already on life support.

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