Taoiseach says Government still committed to hospital

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the Government remains absolutely committed to provide a national children’s hospital within its lifetime despite a decision from An Bord Pleanála to refuse planning permission for it to be built on the Mater campus site in Dublin.

Mr Kenny said the Government made a “deliberate conscious” decision to go ahead with the project based on specific funding platform and that it would “happen in the lifetime of this Government.”

In a decision released today An Bord Pleanála said the proposed development would “constitute overdevelopment” of the Mater site and would “be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”.

Minister for Health Dr James Reilly said despite today’s setback the Government is “100 per cent committed to the project”.

Dr Reilly said he would be establishing a review body, chaired by former HSE chairman Frank Dolphin, to come back with recommendations very quickly.

“We shall now sit down and examine very closely the decision and make a determination very rapidly with great urgency and immediacy. While this does represent a delay, it is merely a delay and we will seek to make up the time very quickly.”

Dr Reilly said the hospital would be built “either at this location [Mater] or elsewhere.”

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore later told the Dáil the Mater site had not been ruled out.

“On my initial reading of the decision it appears it has to do with the height and scale of the development, that will have to be looked to see if some changes can be made that would satisfy Bord Pleanála in a subsequent application.”

He said it is “a great pity so many years were wasted” in the creation of the plans but that the Government has to reflect on the bord’s decision and “move forward.”

Fianna Fáil’s deputy leader Éamon Ó Cuív called on the Government to define the National Children’s Hospital as critical infrastructure under the Planning and Development Act and allow the development proceed.

He said: “We do not have time to waste, this issue is above politics and must be sorted as soon as possible.”

Independent TD Finian McGrath said the decision was a “bad day” for families, staff and for jobs and capital investment in the north side of Dublin.

“Once again it shows that sick children are paying the price for the gross incompetence of others,” he added.

In its ruling An Bord Pleanála said: “The proposed Children’s Hospital of Ireland, by its nature, requires a substantial floor area, in excess of 100,000 square metres, to accommodate the operational needs of the hospital.

“However, the footprint afforded to the proposed development has resulted in a proposal for a very significant building in terms of bulk and height, including a 164m long ward block, rising to 74m above ground.

“It is considered that the proposed development, by reason of its height, scale, form and mass, located on this elevated site, would result in a dominant, visually incongruous structure and would have a profound negative impact on the appearance and visual amenity of the city skyline.”

The board said the development would contravene the Dublin City Development Plan (2011-2017) that seeks to protect the city’s skyline and would adversely affect the “existing scale and character of the historic city and the established character of the local area”. The plan was rejected by three to one.

Last November, Dr Reilly promised construction on the controversial development would start next year with a view to it opening in 2016.

The €650 million hospital, which was to be the biggest ever built in Ireland, was referred to An Bord Pleanála following a series of public hearings. The decision was originally supposed to be released in January, but An Bord Pleanála deferred it because of the complexity of the case.

An international expert group unanimously had backed the Mater site as the best for the facility, which was to merge the existing children’s hospitals at Temple Street, Crumlin and Tallaght.

The site has been dogged with controversy from the beginning, with many parties concluding its co-location on the Mater hospital site was too restrictive, poorly accessible and out of character with the Georgian architecture in the area.

At its highest the proposed development would have been taller than Liberty Hall and dominated the area.

However, the hospital was approved by the previous Fianna Fáil government in 2006 and was given the go-ahead by its successor in July following an independent expert review.

The review, which was carried out by clinicians and chief executives of major children’s hospitals in Britain, the United States and Australia, concluded unanimously that the Mater hospital site was the best.

The National Children’s Hospital development board is scheduled to meet next Tuesday to plan a way forward for the scheme.

“There’s a lot of complexity to the overall proposal so equally the decision needs to be looked at closely,” a spokesman said.

Board members are said to be disappointed that the project has hit another setback.