Flawed proposal for Mater site

 

SELECTING THE most appropriate site for a major public project is of critical importance, as underlined dramatically by An Bord Pleanála’s decision to refuse planning permission for the proposed children’s hospital of Ireland on the Mater site in Dublin. Just as the notion of building the “Bertie Bowl” – an 80,000-seat stadium plugged into the M50 that was never built due to its huge cost and the essential madness inherent in it – so it was equally wrong-headed for Mr Ahern to champion the Mater site in his own constituency, with the support of others, as the only possible location for the children’s hospital.

The decision in 2006 to opt for it was taken with unseemly haste, and there is little evidence that other sites were seriously examined by a taskforce notably deficient in personnel with extensive knowledge of architecture, town planning or urban design.

An Bord Pleanála’s decision has been characterised by many, including Minister for Health James Reilly and former Health Service Executive chief Brendan Drumm, as being about “aesthetics”. This is a woeful misinterpretation. Aesthetics are concerned with beauty and taste, whereas the board’s refusal was grounded very firmly in its view that the height, bulk, scale and mass of the enormous building being proposed would have a “profound negative impact” on Dublin’s skyline “notwithstanding the quality of the design the general acceptability of the proposal in terms of medical co-location on this inner city hospital site”. For Dr Reilly to imagine that this amounts to an endorsement of the Mater location and all that now needs to be done is to tweak the rejected scheme to make it more “aesthetically” acceptable is simply wrong.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has promised a “quick review”, telling RTÉ yesterday the Government was “not going to mess around interminably wondering what’s to be done here”. Leaving aside the inelegance of his language, there is every reason why a thorough, impartial and comprehensive review of plans for a national children’s hospital should now take place – and not another ready-up by bureaucrats and medical vested interests dug into their trenches on this issue. The most appalling stratagem, suggested in the Dáil on Thursday by Fianna Fáil deputy leader Éamon Ó Cuív, would be to amend the Strategic Infrastructure Act to bypass An Bord Pleanála’s ruling so that the project could go ahead.

Apart from the review group chaired by former HSE chairman Frank Dolphin, which is examining options for the hospital project, it has been reported that another “expert committee” will report to Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan on the implications of An Bord Pleanála’s decision for other major infrastructure projects and whether the planning process can be “adapted” to allow consultations with An Bord Pleanála while projects are being developed so that they do not fall at the final hurdle. This seems sensible, on the face of it. But the fact is that there were lengthy “pre-planning” consultations with the board before the application for the children’s hospital was lodged.

In the meantime, Dr Reilly must address the unacceptable situation of sick children being forced to stay on trolleys in the corridors of our existing paediatric hospitals.