And still we wait for the national children’s hospital

Team planning the new hospital at St James’s can only watch as future costs of construction escalate

A computer generated image showing how the new children’s hospital will look from the air.

A computer generated image showing how the new children’s hospital will look from the air.

 

It was supposed to be the last government’s flagship project, scheduled to open for the 100th anniversary of the Rising and serving to highlight Ireland’s progress since then.

Instead the plans for the new children’s hospital, the biggest public building project in the history of the State, remain on the drawingboard at this time of centenary commemoration.

Marooned by a delay in a decision due from An Bord Pleanála, the team planning the new hospital at St James’s can only sit and watch as future costs of construction escalate.

Once again the project threatens to become a symbol of how Ireland struggles to implement big projects and wastes millions of euro instead of inciting pride over our ability to deliver what the health service needs, when it needs it.

The time for building the hospital was during the economic doldrums when costs were lowest and the employment it could have provided would have been gold dust. The latest estimate that construction will cost an extra €60 million on top of the €650 million already budgeted is probably only the start of it based on previous experience with public projects.

Building inflation

At least the project team has engaged with the realities of rising building inflation by revising upwards the project cost of the hospital. A similar analysis of other much-needed capital projects in the health service would undoubtedly show a similar pattern where dithering continues. The planned rebuild of the National Maternity Hospital at St Vincent’s Hospital, for example, is currently being held up by internecine battles within the health sector.

The history of the children’s hospital project is well-known. A long time ago now, it was planned to rebuild the children’s hospital at Crumlin before a decision was reached to build a completely new facility. That project went, after a highly politicised process, to the Mater hospital.

The Mater site was too cramped to accommodate what was needed, resulting in a behemoth of a building that was struck down by the planning board. After further delay the project was awarded to St James’s, which has attracted considerable opposition, much of it from the people who opposed the Mater site.

Fiasco

That fiasco resulted in €40 million in taxpayers’ money being poured down the drain, and a rejection of the plans for St James’s would at least double that level of waste.

The omens are uncertain; an Bord Pleanála was due to deliver a decision on the planning application last month but decided it needed more time to consider submissions made at a 10-day oral hearing last year.

It seems extraordinary the board was unable to deliver a verdict within the normal allotted time. Surely it anticipated the complexity that would arise in a project of this size, and would be able to allocate resources accordingly?

The impact of the delay meant the decision did not break during the election campaign when it could have had national and local ramifications.

Should a rejection ensue, the project would become an even greater mess than it has been and most of the children of today could forget about ever using a new hospital.

The three existing Dublin children’s hospitals could still be amalgamated but it would be the middle of the next decade before a new building materialised, probably on a greenfield site at Blanchardstown.

And God only knows how much that would cost.