Irish News

Thursday 31 July 2014

€600m to be available but minister won't reveal cost

Paul Melia and Michael Brennan

Published 07/11/2012|05:00

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THE Government expects to have €600m available to build the National Children's Hospital -- but it will be at least nine months before the project is ready to go for planning permission.

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A detailed design is not expected to be completed for the 108,000sqm building until next August, with a planning decision expected about six months later in early 2014.

However, there are risks attached to the St James's Hospital site. The main concerns centre around the height of the development and its impact on nearby homes. Local residents are expected to object.

St James's offered a 6.3-hectare (15.5 acres) site on its city-centre campus, of which 2.44ha would be used for the hospital. Another 1.26ha would be set aside for future expansion, while the remaining 2.42ha would be used for a maternity hospital and research facilities.

A report drawn up by experts John Martin and Simon Clear, a former inspector with An Bord Pleanala -- which will decide upon the application -- notes that a number of buildings will have to be demolished.

There are also a number of other planning issues which have to be addressed, including:

• The site was zoned for institutional/hospital use, but that zoning was shot down by the High Court. This means that the site has to be rezoned, although this is unlikely to pose major problems.

• The 108,000sqm building would be up to nine storeys high -- 10 metres above the maximum 28 metres permitted in the area. A number of two-storey residential homes are nearby, meaning objections are likely, but using some of the site earmarked for the maternity hospital to reduce the height could overcome this hurdle.

• The single road through the campus may pose problems for construction traffic.

• The electricity supply may need to be upgraded.

The report says: "There would be a significant risk if the site of the Children's Hospital was confined to the initial site of 2.44ha, without including the proposed expansion site of 1.26ha.

Risks

"The initial site would result in buildings which are likely to be of excessive height. If the site can be enlarged to a minimum of 3.5ha, the planning risk can be reduced to a moderate level."

A separate report drawn up by the Office of Public Works outlines a number of other risks, including the need to upgrade the electricity system on the campus, upgrading of the sewerage system and the need to overcome traffic problems.

The original cost of the hospital on the Mater site was €650m and Health Minister James Reilly refused to be drawn on the bill for the St James's project, citing commercial confidentiality.

The project's backers suggest it can be completed for €484m, but Dr Reilly said he expected it to be above this figure.

"We think that's very tight and other costs need to be put into that," he said.

He defended the failure to provide a precise figure, saying: "I'm not going to give out any information that's commercially sensitive. These matters have to go to tender. The last thing you want to tell your builder is how much money you have to spend."

The Government had put aside around €450m from its capital budget for the Children's Hospital but €39m of this has already been spent on the Mater site.

The remaining €200m will come from the sale of the National Lottery licence, plus voluntary donations.

Irish Independent

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