PLEASE RECONSIDER: Rod Doherty and Alan Gray at the Hunter Expressway’s Loxford interchange, which they say would provide ideal access for a new Lower Hunter hospital to be located nearby.Proximity to the Hunter Expressway should have been the key factor in deciding the site of the new Lower Hunter hospital, local business and community representatives say.
Kurri District Business Chamber president and Ward D councillor, Rod Doherty says the new hospital should be located near the Hunter Expressway, not at Metford, where the NSW Government plans to build the hospital.
And according to Cr. Doherty, the newly-available Hydro site at Loxford would be the ideal location.
Cr. Doherty has written to Premier Mike Baird and health minister Jillian Skinner to express the business chamber’s belief that the Metford site is a “poor decision and not based on sound geographic and population growth information”.
Despite the NSW Government announcing the Metford site in August last year, the chamber’s Kurri 2040 Steering Committee has not written off the idea of the new hospital being built along the expressway corridor.
“Many of the Lower Hunter and Upper Hunter hospitals are greater than 100 years old and cannot cope with the 21st century population growth, which is moving north-west to places such as Cessnock, Kurri Kurri, Lochinvar, Branxton and Singleton Shire,” Cr. Doherty said.
“With the completion of the Hunter Expressway and the recent announcement of the Hydro Aluminium Smelter closure freeing up some 2000 hectares of developable land, we believe the decision needs to be revisited.
“The location of the Hunter Hospital at Metford is right beside a major coal train transport route for the foreseeable future and would expose the hospital to coal dust contamination.”
Local Health Advisory Committee member, Alan Gray said the new hospital has been talked about for at least 10 years and that the GretaCamp was the preferred site before Hydro became available.
Mr. Gray said the former aluminium smelter site ticks all the boxes – it’s flood-free; not undermined; has power, water and gas and is close to the expressway, giving it good access to all Hunter, Port Stephens and Central Coast towns.
It would also be the ideal site to build an emergency services precinct – another of the Kurri 2040 committee’s 10 Big Ideas.
Cr. Doherty said he doesn’t expect anything to happen before the State election in March next year.
“Once the dust settles, all bets are off,” he said.
The government announced in August last year that it had chosen the former PGH Bricks site at Metford – a 40-hectare Crown land site – as the home of the new Lower Hunter hospital.
But while in Maitland last week, the Premier refused to commit on whether construction will begin on the new hospital before the state election in March.
Mr. Baird said during a visit to the site on Wednesday that he expected the hospital to be complete within five years.
However, he said there was still no date for construction to begin.
When asked whether ground would be broken before the election, Mr. Baird said the important point was that the government had committed to building the hospital.
“Let’s wait until we get to the final position of the planning,” he said.
“We want the work to be done but the truth and reality is that the hospital will be built, that’s the exciting thing.
“The timing and schedule will be announced once the [planning] work is done, but we need to finalise that work and then we will announce it.
“My expectation is the hospital will be delivered in a five-year time frame.”
Hunter New England Local Area Health CEO Michael DiRienzo said the master plan for the site would be completed by the end of 2014.
Member for Cessnock, Clayton Barr said the opposition has concerns about the site selection process and will be reassessing the process if they are re-elected in March.
“We’re concerned that the site was chosen for political convenience, as opposed to the needs of the area.
“It needs to be built properly and in the right space,” Mr. Barr said.
“They are making an error from day zero, just because the land was cheap.”
Mr. Barr said the Hunter Expressway is the “aorta of the Hunter” and that building the new hospital near it would be a logical decision.
Meanwhile, the increase in traffic on Frame Drive, Abermain since the expressway’s opening has led to a 10-tonne load limit being applied to the bridge.
Cessnock City Council installed signage last week advising of the bridge’s new load limit.
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