Making a mess of hospital developments

How political decisions overrule logic and good planning


First the good news. The ACT government is committed to adding overdue facilities to the Woden Valley Hospital.

This is the Surgical Procedures, Interventional Radiology and Emergency (SPIRE) Centre. The proposal was a flagship 2016 election promise made to outbid the ACT Liberals.

It worked. But fundamental costings and planning details were missing (anyone surprised?).

The centre was to be located on the north-western edge on the corner of Kitchener Street and Yamba Drive and included a helipad.

Unfortunately, as is the case so often for this government, things didn’t work out.

Two years later, reality checks on the chosen site highlighted the lack of appropriate planning and unforeseen costs. But it was an election promise, so another political decision was taken in December. Still no planning and consultations?

The location was moved to the eastern edge, between Hospital Road and Palmer Street, near the corner with Gilmore Street. Again, it included a rooftop helipad because it needs to be atop the same building as the emergency centre.

These changes meant that the project timelines were put back years and it will be lucky if anything is commenced by the 2020 election. Lack of planning?

Meanwhile, another reality. In making the decision to move, little importance was placed on the obvious fact that the facility would now be on a suburban street.
The school, children and parents and residents will now share their street with the main entrance for ambulances and service deliveries.
This part of Garran, including the school, already shares the space with the back of some hospital buildings and is somewhat affected by the helicopters landing on the north-western side of the hospital complex.
It is seriously impacted by the overflow parking from the hospital – especially when parents are dropping off and picking up children.
Figures obtained by the local residents under Freedom of Information indicate the number of ambulances arriving at the present hospital in 2018 was 19,649 (average 26 a day) with 358 helicopter landings.
Given the increase in usage after SPIRE opens, the data indicates that there could be a 50 per cent increase in ambulances fairly quickly – meaning possibly one every nine minutes with possibly three helicopters hovering, landing and taking off every day.
These figures indicate the impact on the school and its access to the street along with the changes to the lifestyle of residents nearby.
Everyone in Canberra knows the scene outside a local school at pick up and set down times.
For Garran, add the impact of the streets choked with parking from the hospital. Now add to that ambulances arriving with sirens and the occasional helicopter appearing overhead.
And while those flying machines are absolutely necessary, they are very noisy when landing and taking off. You stop what you are doing, your windows rattle and you just wait. Best of luck if you are teaching or guiding children across a busy street or trying to sleep at night.
The residents along Gilmore Street now look out at a fence line, with mature trees as a buffer, and through them to the back of buildings. This scene will change to become a main entrance of a tall complex and the introduction of arriving and departing traffic, including ambulances, from the emergency entrance.
The patronising answers coming from the Chief Minister and the current Health Minister (the school was always next to the hospital – the residents are being precious) do not help.
Woden Valley residents, including those from Garran, know that with proper planning and real consultations there could be far better outcomes.
Many years of calling for master planning for the whole hospital campus and the surrounding precinct remain ignored.
Residents and school parents are in the unenviable, awkward situation of being very supportive of the new facility, but not on these suburban streets.
There is still time for an intelligent and people-focused approach and to get it right for such important health and community decisions. Is there the will to do so?


This piece was originally published in City News

Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday matters.

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