Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Council planners asked to approve New Horizons despite no money for it

DISTRICT councillors will be asked tomorrow, Thursday, January 31, to grant planning approval for West Somerset’s £50 million New Horizons project – even though the council has pulled its financial backing for the scheme.
New Horizons was intended to provide the district with a new hospital, sports centre and leisure facilities including a swimming pool, business support and training, and housing, including affordable homes for local people.
Now, an outline planning application will be put before tomorrow’s meeting of the council’s planning committee, with a recommendation for councillors to allow it subject to no substantive objections being received from organisations which have still to make comments.
The planning application has been submitted by the council itself in order that the principle of the development can be agreed.
But a deepening financial crisis which has hit the council since Independent councillors took control in last year’s elections has forced the authority to withdraw its £11 million share of the funding.
However, Somerset Primary Care Trust (PCT) is still looking at the possibility of going ahead with the £26 million hospital element of the scheme on its own, because almost all of the cost will be met by the Government.
Work is planned to start on the hospital during the summer of this year and it should be ready to accept patients in mid-2009.
Staff in the existing Minehead hospital recently shared their views on the design of the new community hospital.
The developers, Laing O’Rouke, met with clinical staff to discuss the design of the new facility, which is being planned on a site off Seaward Way, Minehead.
PCT project director Simon Corrick said: “We held a very successful project launch day which allowed the hospital developers, Laing O’Rouke, to meet with the staff who will be working in the new hospital.
“The meeting provided a good opportunity to allow our staff to discuss their thoughts on how the hospital should be designed and operated, and for Laing O’Rouke to introduce members of their team who will be working with us over the next two years.
“The event was very useful and enabled our staff to fully understand the process that will be followed.
“In particular, I think it provided reassurance that staff will be fully involved in the process.”
Laing O’Rouke was appointed by the PCT and will take full responsibility for all aspects of the design and construction of the new hospital.
The company has considerable experience in the development of public buildings and is presently completing a new hospital in Frome which will receive its first patients this summer.
Mr Corrick said: “This is the first part of the design process and we now face a very intensive three months which will result in a design which will be submitted for a full planning application later this year.
“In the meantime, we continue working with the other partner organisations which are collaborating on the development of the town’s New Horizons project.”
Members of the Somerset Patient and Public Involvement Forum - which is an NHS watchdog - this week expressed their concern at the district council’s withdrawal from the New Horizons project.
The forum recognised the council’s financial constraints but urged it to think again, in order to allow New Horizons to go ahead as planned.
Forum chairman Maureen Lloyd Williams said: “The shared site would foster links between all sections of the community. It will be a huge boost to the area.”

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