‘End of debate’ as planning to be lodged in weeks

PLANNING permission for a new National Children’s Hospital on a site adjacent to the Mater in Dublin city centre will be lodged within two weeks, the government confirmed yesterday.

Health Minister Dr James Reilly said the announcement would “end the debate” over the location of the proposed hospital, which could be up and running by the end of 2016.

However, that is more than a year later than previously scheduled, while the ultimate decision as to whether or not the project gets off the ground will only come after the plan has undergone the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review in the autumn.

Only then will Minister Reilly and his Department know that the proposal will be among the capital spending projects to get the go-ahead.

Yesterday’s announcement came after a seven-week review, which included both financial and clinical analysis of the proposed Eccles St site close to the Mater Hospital, and the merits of three other sites, all close to the M50.

The review has also concluded that the new children’s hospital will not have a helipad for helicopter access on its roof. Instead, a helipad will be placed on top of the adult hospital at the Mater, providing 99% helicopter access.

The €600 million project, with another €50m to be spent at the Ambulatory and Urgent Care Centre (AUCC) in Tallaght, is also not dependent on the Metro North project being undertaken.

A brown-field site at Tallaght was one of three alternative to the Mater site explored by the review team, the others being green-field sites at Newlands Cross and close to James Connolly Memorial Hospital in Blanchardstown.

Architect John Cooper, who led the Project Review Team, admitted yesterday that building costs on the three other sites would initially have been between €60m and €86m cheaper, but when other considerations were taken into account — including the longer building time, inflation, additional road infrastructure and future savings — those initial savings were negated.

The Project Review was spearheaded by four children’s hospital chief executives from around the world: Dr James Mandell from the Children’s Hospital Boston, Dr James Shmerling of the Children’s Hospital in Colorado, Prof Peter Steer of Children’s Health Services in Brisbane, and Dr Jane Collins of Great Ormond St in London.

Dr Mandell and Dr Shmerling lent their vocal support to yesterday’s announcement via video message and Minister Reilly said that the “long and torturous debate” on the hospital site had now come to a conclusion thanks to the efforts of the team with “no axe to grind.”

“The Mater site is the chosen site and that debate is over,” he said.

The Minister said he would announce the name of the new permanent chairman of the planning board behind the new national children’s hospital, a position filled temporarily since April by developer Harry Crosbie.

Reacting to the government announcement, Mary O’Connor, Chief Executive Officer with the Children in Hospital Ireland group, said: “We were very happy with the Minister’s commitment to the project and also very happy that he has clarified a few of the things that have been in the media, like taking some of the storeys, and so on.”

The Development Board of the New Children’s Hospital of Ireland Project welcomed yesterday’s announcement while a statement from the Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street urged the government to avoid further delay.

Elsewhere, the Construction Industry Federation called on the Government to make funding available immediately to proceed with the National Children’s Hospital, irrespective of the expected spending review.

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