Frantic attempts to salvage children’s hospital

Desperate attempts were being made last night by the Government to salvage the National Children’s Hospital, after plans for the long-awaited facility descended into a shambles.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who singled out the €650m development as a priority in his address to the nation last December, insisted it would go ahead and within the Coalition’s lifetime despite An Bord Pleanála’s refusal of planning permission likely adding years to the project’s 2016 completion target.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, meanwhile, said he would consider a Fianna Fáil proposal for radical legislation to allow the Government overrule the board.

However, while ministers were bullish about the progress of the hospital, privately there was anger that it had gone so far only to be rejected so completely.

James Reilly, the health minister, has set up a review body under former HSE chairman Frank Dolphin to examine the board’s 132-page report and the reasons for refusal.

Pre-planning consultations were to have taken place with board representatives to iron out potential problems before they arose.

However, it appears the only discussions were about whether the project satisfied the criteria for direct submission to the board under the Strategic Infrastructure Act as a fast-track mechanism that allowed it to avoid consideration by Dublin City Council first.

It is felt more detailed consultations would have made clear that the scale of the 16-storey structure would contravene all planning guidelines and development plans for the area around the Mater Hospital campus in Dublin and had little chance of success.

The planning board concluded: “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.” It also cited concerns about traffic and parking at the congested inner city site.

Dr Reilly summoned architects involved to a meeting and said he was determined to see if the plans could be amended to secure permission. “This hospital will be built,” he said.

Campaigners for the hospital, which was to provide one state-of-the-art replacement for the existing hospitals in Crumlin, Temple St, and Tallaght, expressed bitter disappointment.

Louis Roden, chairman of the New Crumlin Hospital Group, said alternative sites should be examined with speed if the Mater site was out of the question. “We have spoken about it for 10 years and we are still talking. I am already half grey from this and we still haven’t turned a sod,” he said.

The New Children’s Hospital Alliance, which opposed the Mater location, said their concerns about the “woefully inadequate” site should have been heeded from the outset.

Developer Noel Smyth urged the Government to reconsider an offer he had previously made of a greenfield site close to the M50. He said he remained “ready and willing to serve” if he could be of help.


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