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Future of new children’s hospital in doubt if Government fails to put planner on special review group - experts

EXPERTS have warned the future build of the national children's hospital could be at risk if the Government fails to include a planner on its special review group.

Health Minister James Reilly will next week appoint the group, which will consider alternative options for the development, after An Bord Pleanala rejected plans last month.

The Irish Planning Institute (IPI) has argued that architectural and clinical experts alone may not have sufficient knowledge to help deliver a strategy for the €650m development.

And president Brendan Allen said it would be extraordinary if planners were left out of the review process.

"Forward planning is the key to the successful delivery of infrastructure projects as it means that the hard decisions in relation to the principle are taken early on before millions are spent on detailed design," said Mr Allen.

"In an era where public money is limited, forward planning is the less costly area of planning and needs to be the focus of planning for future strategic infrastructure development."

An Bord Pleanala rejected the Government's controversial plans for the 15-storey building on the Mater Hospital site in north Dublin, saying the 74m-high building over 100,000 square feet was too large and out of place in the city skyline.

Dr Reilly announced he would appoint a review group to consider both amending the plans for the Mater site and looking into alternative locations for the proposed 400-bed development.

Both he and Taoiseach Enda Kenny pledged their 100pc commitment to the project, promising the parents of sick children that the build will go ahead despite the setback.

But Mr Allen warned that planners must be involved with the expert review group to ensure the project adheres to national, regional and local planning structures, and that no one is surprised by the size or location ultimately decided upon.

"It is essential that an experienced spatial planner should be part of this body so that any future decision in relation to the location of the hospital, wherever this might be, is based on sound planning principles as well as medical needs," he added.

Former Health Service Executive chairman Dr Frank Dolphin will spearhead the review group and make recommendations on how plans for the hospital can progress.

Dr Reilly said he would also discuss the decision with O'Connell Mahon architects/NBBJ who designed the structure and consulted planners.

It has been estimated that €33m has been spent to date on the project. Funding of €200m had been earmarked from the sale of a new National Lottery licence with the winning bidder tied to an upfront payment.

Alternative locations are now back on the table including co-location at Tallaght Hospital, co-location at James Connolly in Blanchardstown, a new standalone paediatric centre at Newlands Cross and redeveloping St James' and Crumlin in Dublin.

It was originally anticipated the build would be completed by 2016. Dr Reilly insisted the Government will try to ensure there is as little delay as possible by dealing with the setback with urgency.