Planning process needs 'finessing'


Minister for Communications and Energy Pat Rabbitte has said the refusal of permission for the new national children’s hospital demonstrated the new for a finessing of the planning process

An Bord Pleanála refused permission for the development on Mater Hospital campus on the grounds that the size of the project would be an overdevelopment of the site.

Speaking today Mr Rabbitte said the planning process "continually raises its head in terms of implementing necessary infrastructure projects”.

He said the issue was easier to analyse than fix “because you have to get a balance between the right of citizens to express their view on the one hand, and the necessity in the public interest to deliver projects on the other”.

While recent infrastructure legislation had attempted to improve this, there was “still have a great deal of finessing of the legislation and the practice in this area that might be done” and the children’s hospital decision has increased the urgency for such changes, he said.

The fallout from the planning board’s decision to turn down the development will be discussed by the Cabinet tomorrow.

Ministers are expected to discuss the terms of reference and membership of a new group to be chaired by former Health Service Executive chairman Frank Dolphin. This group will look at the implications of the planning decision and provide options for Minister for Health James Reilly. How broad or narrow these are could prove crucial for the final outcome of the process.

The Cabinet will also consider the establishment of a second group to focus on whether the planning process can be adapted to allow for consultation with the board while projects are developed so they do not fall at the final hurdle.

However, it emerged yesterday the board had flagged its concerns about the “constrained nature” of the Mater site as a location for the new children’s hospital as early as November 2010 at a meeting with Department of Health officials, long before the planning application was lodged.

In a further development yesterday, the former chairman of the hospital project, Philip Lynch, said the Government should drop the plan to build it on the Mater site.

“The country, the Government can’t afford it. It’s as simple as this. Even in the boom we couldn’t get on with it... and now the troika will probably decide whether we should build it or not,” he said.

Mr Lynch resigned as chairman of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board in 2010 after questioning the Mater site’s suitability for the project.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio yesterday he also insisted that co-locating the children’s facility with a major adult hospital, as favoured by the Government, was not a viable option.

“Where do you co-locate today? Every hospital we have is ancient, okay? Where would you co-locate it and have you the land and the building to co-locate? You haven’t. It’s as simple as this,” he said.

Labour Minister of State and local TD Joe Costello last night called on the Government to proceed with a smaller project on the Mater site. 

Critics of the Mater site have again urged the Government to consider alternative locations.

The New Children’s Hospital Alliance, one of the main groups opposed to the Mater as the national children’s hospital site, said An Bord Pleanála’s decision had ended the discussion on this location. Alternative sites now had to be considered. 

The board of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board will also meet tomorrow to consider the decision by An Bord Pleanála.