A political row is underway about whether housing for nurses should be built on an agricultural field next to the main building of the Princess Elizabeth Hospital or on the site of a former residential home within the grounds of the Hospital.
Politicians who favour building the houses on the green field have been encouraged by indications that the Development & Planning Authority is open to recognising such a scheme as a ‘development of strategic importance’ under policy S5 of the Island Development Plan.
This could potentially allow normal planning policies to be set aside and provide a lawful route to build on green field sites which would usually be protected from development.
Politicians opposed to such a scheme are astounded that it could be made exempt from normal planning policies and want the Authority to insist that any new staff accommodation at the Hospital is built on the site of the former Duchess of Kent residential home instead of on a green field.
Pictured: Planning policy S5 is at the centre of a political row about whether to allow the development of a green field at the Princess Elizabeth Hospital.
The President of the Committee for Health & Social Care, Deputy Al Brouard, last night told Express that there is an "urgent need for additional purpose-built key worker accommodation" for healthcare staff.
Deputy Brouard dismissed suggestions that key worker housing should be built on the site of Vauqueidor House - part of which previously housed the Duchess of Kent residential home - because it is "fully occupied by a number of [the Committee's] services".
Instead, Deputy Brouard said: "The area of land between Vauqueidor House and the main Hospital building has been identified as a possible site to build. The steep gradient of this field means it is not the best agricultural land".
On Friday, Express published an opinion article in which La Société Guernesiaise argued for “a moratorium on further loss of agricultural land to domestic curtilage and particularly of the development of green field sites”.
Deputy Heidi Soulsby, Vice-President of the Policy & Resources Committee, said she totally agreed with La Société Guernesiaise and expressed concern at the prospect of the States obtaining “a Section 5 [planning] exception to allow it to build on a green field at the Princess Elizabeth Hospital when there’s a building not fit for purpose next door”.
Deputy Soulsby's reference to a “building next door” was to the Duchess of Kent site.
Me too. I do wonder what the point of IDP was. APAs we’re meant to protect the best agricultural land but we hear we can have a S5 exception to allow it to build on a greenfield at PEH when there’s a building not fit for purpose next door.— Deputy Heidi Soulsby MBE (@HeidiSoulsby) April 8, 2022
The previous Committee for Health & Social Care, which was led by Deputy Soulsby, was working on plans to empty the Duchess of Kent buildings for redevelopment.
Sketch plans exist for the site to provide around three times the amount of staff accommodation currently provided at John Henry Court in the grounds of the Hospital.
Pictured: Deputy Al Brouard, President of the Committee for Health & Social Care, is facing considerable political opposition to the idea of building key worker housing on a green field next to the main building at the Princess Elizabeth Hospital.
Deputy Peter Roffey said the Committee was presenting deputies with “a dilemma”.
He said he “passionately support[s] the need for additional staff accommodation” but questioned the plan to use “prime agricultural and scenic land when there is a far, far better location”.
Deputy Gavin St Pier said that more key worker housing was needed but that developing agricultural or green fields at or near to the Hospital was unnecessary.
“Personally, I struggle to understand how any decision maker could rationally and reasonably conclude that this green field site is ripe for the use of planning policy S5 to override the protection of a green field site designated of high agricultural value," said Deputy St Pier.
"Common sense would otherwise lead you to conclude that you have a clapped out old building - the Duchess of Kent - wholly unfit for purpose which is overdue to be redeveloped.”
Pictured: Deputy Aidan Matthews has acknowledged that he dislikes the idea of developing green fields at the Princess Elizabeth Hospital site.
Deputy Brouard said that his Committee supported developing more accommodation at the Hospital for nurses and other healthcare staff.
Express understands that some members of his Committee do not favour building the new accommodation on a green field, though it is not yet clear which members are in favour and which are opposed.
Deputy Aidan Matthews, a member of the Committee, has gone as far as saying: “I don’t like the idea of losing fields the Hospital is set in and, in general, consider the aesthetic value of open green spaces near built up areas as well as biodiversity and agricultural quality.”
Some deputies have even suggested that conservation groups may be prepared to launch a judicial review should the Authority use policy S5 to grant permission for staff accommodation to be built on the green fields.
Pictured: Three months ago, Express reported on plans - now apparently dropped - to build housing for private sale on green fields next to the Castel Hospital.
This is the second time in three months that plans have emerged to build housing on agricultural or green fields next to hospital sites owned by the States.
On 10 January, Deputy David Mahoney, the Policy & Resources Committee's lead on property matters, said: “We are very aware that the island also desperately needs three-, four- and five-bedroom houses for families to buy and occupy and that is what the Policy & Resources Committee is proposing for the Castel [Hospital] site."
On 11 January, Deputy Mahoney told Express: "The proposals being worked on now for around 90 homes would require use of the fields that form part of the [Castel Hospital] site alongside the built-up areas, which would be important to make the most of the opportunity to provide a mix of housing on this site which is desperately needed.”
But by the end of January, following significant political and public criticism of the plans to build on green fields, the Policy & Resources Committee was distancing itself from them, referring to them only as Deputy Mahoney’s “vision for the site” and claiming that “the Committee has not yet held a formal review of the plans”.
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