Planning risks a major factor in choice of St James's for hospital

Wed, Nov 7, 2012, 00:00

There were unacceptable planning risks in developing the national children’s hospital on the original site at the Mater hospital, Minister for Health James Reilly has said.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday after the Cabinet decision on the new location for the facility, he said the planning risks associated with St James’s were “moderate” according to recent estimates.

The Mater was an excellent location from a clinical point of view, he said. However, the planning risk was “unacceptably . . . high”.

“If we had received a second refusal, we would not have been forgiven by the parents and children of this country for a long time to come and we were not prepared to take that risk, frankly.”

The Minister said approximately €39 million had been spent on preparing to develop the children’s hospital at the Mater Hospital. Of that, €13 million could be reused on the new site at St James’s Hospital.

“Sadly that means that €26 million has gone, not to be recovered.”

Room to grow

Dr Reilly said the reconfiguration of the site at St James’s allowed plenty of space to develop a new maternity hospital in the future. Construction of the children’s hospital “could be completed by end of 2017, and certainly early 2018”, he said.

St James’s had estimated that the cost of developing the new facility would be €484 million but he considered this to be “very tight”.

He declined to provide the Government’s own estimates on the grounds that this was commercially sensitive and the project had to go out to tender.

The Government had agreed to provide €200 million from either the sale of the National Lottery or a new licensing arrangement, he said. More than €400 million would be available from the exchequer’s capital programme for the development.

Dr Reilly also said a 20-acre site on the nearby South Circular Road close to the Coombe hospital might be of interest in relation to the possibility of a new innovative centre for medical research, and the possible development of a “medical quarter” that would stretch from St James’s to the other location.

“That is an agenda that can be met into the future; today is about building a paediatric hospital for the children of the country to give them the service they need. That is the priority.”

Access

He said the St James’s site could accommodate this objective. Addressing the issue of access to St James’s, which is also in a city location, he said the site was served by the Luas and four excellent bus routes.

The Government’s decision on the location of the new hospital was “completely consistent” with the advice given in the report of the Dolphin review group, he maintained. “There can never be a perfect site but we must not let perfection be the enemy of excellence.”