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Minister Hits Out At 'Misinformation' Ahead Of Access Road Debate

The chair of the group leading Jersey's new hospital project has hit out at what he's called 'misinformation' and insists claims that the proposed access route to the new hospital could lead to the destruction of People's Park 'is not correct'.

Campaigners and nearby residents were out this morning tieing red ribbons on trees they fear could be cut down if States members approve the proposed access route next Monday.

Members of the 'Friends Of Our New Hospital Steering Group' have also used red tape to outline the proposed route.

They've been holding walks every day to walk from People's Park to Overdale via Westmount Road for the past three weeks.

Tamara van Meggelen, who lives in the area, is unhappy that there have been no preliminary design diagrams for people to see.

"It's a big moment expediting this debate, with the government still refusing to produce any diagram of a road they clearly know what it's going to look like. That's very distressing because they claim it's an improvement.

"We've been holding the walks daily, which some States members to their credit have gone on. I think people are really surprised at the level of destruction that is going to be done."

Hospital Project Director Richard Bannister says the aim is to keep the majority of trees, but while he can't guarantee that all will be, any trees that are lost will be re-provided to another location.

Senator Lyndon Farnham says the intention is not to lose a single tree.

"The intention is not to disturb any trees and have minimum environmental impact.

"In actual fact, I think we've got an opportunity to increase the recreational space to the other side of the road and actually grow the park."

The Bowling Club and three houses will be lost if this proposal is given the go-ahead.

The Political Oversight Group says 71 different routes were considered - and this one had the most minimal impact.

The car park across the bottom of People's Park would be replaced with a cycleway and a footway, with the trees alongside to remain. Some Jersey petanque pitches could also need to move.

Richard Bannister says the People's Park playground could potentially be impacted, and that if it is, they will look to relocate it to an 'agreed location'.

He also told journalists that the rising section over the Bowling Club gives the opportunity for some archways underneath the road, allowing the land left to be possibly used to actually extend People's Park.

Senator Farnham says it's frustrating that 'a rumour has been allowed to spread' that there will be severe damage to the park.

"I think we can all sometimes look at things and not see what is being proposed and sometimes listen to things but not hear what is being proposed. 

"I know it's difficult when one is opposed to something to actually see the benefit from it but I take that is actually understandable and we have to continue to work hard to reassure people that this is going to be a good scheme and an improvement on what is already here - certainly make it a lot safer."

The access road debate was originally set for Tuesday 9 February, but a requisitioned sitting was organised for Monday 1 February instead after the Future Hospital Review Panel lodged an amendment to delay the final approval of the Westmount Road access route until:

  • A preliminary design of the preferred access route is shared
  • A proposition is then lodged for debate on 2 March asking the States Assembly's approval of this design before any work starts.

Chair of the panel, Senator Kristina Moore, says the process leading to next Monday's decision has been 'lacking in detail'.

"This review identifies a continuing pattern of behaviour highlighted in our report which looked at the site selection process; once again, time has been put ahead of good governance and sound decision making.

"We understand the need to deliver a hospital for Jersey, but we are very concerned that a commitment to spend almost £40m of public money is being forced upon States Members without revealing the impact that the access road will have upon the local residents, the landscape, environment, traffic or sustainable transport plans."

Senator Farnham says the specific cost set aside for the access route work is actually £15.1million.

In an email to Senator Farnham seen by Channel 103 - Senator Moore says as part of their review into the proposals, the panel's advisers have criticised the proposals for lacking 'sufficient information, analysis, and rigour' with the overriding criteria for all major decisions being speed.

"Given this observation from our advisors, I would be grateful if you would perhaps reflect on the compromises that you have made and the impact that they will have upon such a major and costly project and respect the Scrutiny process."

Senator Farnham then hit back by saying there has been 'adequate time for thorough and ample consultation' and there is enough information for States members to make a decision.

He said the amendment would cause further unnecessary and costly delays and would put the whole hospital project at risk.

"The States have so far wasted eight years and considerable sums of money by failing at all previous attempts to deliver a new hospital. 

"The timeline and impetus which is driving the project is determined by our ageing and decaying health estate and the unsustainable cost of maintaining it past 2026. This is why there can be no further delay.

"Islanders want us to get on and deliver a new hospital and, regrettably, we have got to the point where we have to take action to ensure the project can move ahead."

Mr. Bannister says providing the detail in that amendment is 'akin to the level of detail you would have just before making a planning application'.

A planning application isn't due to be submitted until the end of 2021 - with officers warning that further delays would then occur because of the need to review those details - which would include:

  • Waiting to buy the properties needed to build the hospital
  • Stopping the engineering works
  • Not moving the existing health services at Overdale to the old Les Quennevais School
  • Not being able to do demolition work
  • Risk pushing the signing of the contracts back to as far as the summer of 2022.

Mr. Bannister also raised fears that if the amendment was successful, the delays would lead to the delivery partner thinking twice and looking elsewhere.

The Scrutiny report has now been published a week early because of the debate being brought forward, which includes recommendations to:

  • Consider the 'do nothing' option instead of the preferred access route: "The Panel has recommended the Council of Ministers should ensure that full consideration be provided to pursuing option 6 (keep Westmount Road as it is), as this would reduce construction time, loss of green space, trees, children’s play areas, existing parking spaces and disruption to existing modes of access."
  • Give information on any additional costs for access and enabling works if the 'do nothing' option was considered
  • Make sure any loss of green space and leisure facilities is relocated
  • Provide details on how the £15.5million figure was reached for the proposed roadworks 'without any detailed design'.
  • Put forward plans to cope with 'disruptive road closures during the construction phase'.

Common themes from public submissions via social media were:

  • Lack of information on which to make a decision
  • A feeling that People’s Park would be destroyed
  • Loss of green space in town

Meanwhile, a Jersey advocate is serving legal papers to demand a St Helier Parish Assembly that could block work on Westmount Road.

Olaf Blakeley is now putting together a requete, signed by ten ratepayers, for a Parish Assembly to call for the precise details of the proposed route.

"It's really concerning the information isn't available and the only conclusion one can reach is that it's being purposely hidden from States members because of the fear that if they do know the full extent and disruption that this preferred access route will cause, it will encourage States members to vote against it.

"It's obvious, isn't it? If you have nothing to hide, then reveal it.

"Senator Le Fondre - who is one of the signatories to speeding up this debate - he spent ages in his speech when the States debated rescinding Gloucester Street about how many issues of causing damage to the environment and disruption to people and their homes and how that would cause planning to reject proposals and yet now, he's willing to just move forward and steamroll this debate before the States in order to get it passed."

The Political Oversight Group has also warned that the amendment being successful could lead to an extra 12-15 month delay, beyond the current three-month delay, and a 30% increase or more to the £550million budget.

The current plan is to have the new hospital operational by the end of 2026.

Another amendment to the proposal is to ask the Council of Ministers to minimise any reduction in green space and tree planting, re-locate and replace any impacted community facilities, and replace any parking that is lost.

Senator Farnham has said the Political Oversight Group is 'minded to accept it'.

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