THE redevelopment of Townlands Hospital in Henley has finally been given the go-ahead.
Plans for the £8.7million “health campus” were given conditional approval by NHS Property Services following a 10-year fight by campaigners.
The news, which was exclusively revealed on the Henley Standard’s website on Friday, was greeted with joy by residents, politicians and healthcare professionals.
Ian Reissmann, chairman of the Townlands Steering Group, said: “This is wonderful news. Thank you to the community for making sure that we didn’t ever give up.” In a statement, NHS Property Services said the approval was “subject to the resolution of a small number of commercial issues, which we expect to be resolved in the coming days”.
On Tuesday, the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group confirmed its approval of revised revenue costs for the redevelopment.
The scheme, which has suffered nine separate delays and was originally scheduled to be completed more than three years ago, will include an 18-bed hospital, a new Sue Ryder hospice, which will move from Nettlebed, and a care home to replace Chilterns End. The new hospital is expected to open in May 2016.
Councillor Reissmann said: “I’m very pleased to say we are able to go ahead with this scheme and it is important to thank the huge number of people involved.”
Dr Peter Ashby, vice-chairman of the group, added: “I am delighted this long effort has at long last resulted in us achieving the goal of a redeveloped Townlands, which we all know is essential to everyone in and around Henley.
“It really appears that this is the final hurdle overcome.”
Barry Wood, a member of the steering group, said he was “delighted” but he would have preferred the new hospital to be built on out-of-town site rather than on the existing hospital site off York Road.
The former mayor also paid tribute to campaigner and former mayor Terry Buckett, who died in November 2009, aged 56. Mr Buckett was part of the Henley delegation that delivered an 11,500-signature petition calling for Townlands to be saved to 10 Downing Street in October 2005.
Mr Wood said: “We should all remember Terry and his sterling work in campaigning for the hospital.”
Henley MP John Howell also welcomed the news but urged caution after meeting health minister Dan Poulter and NHS commercial director Peter Coates on Wednesday to discuss the scheme.
He said an agreement in principle on the outstanding commercial issues had been reached with the developer Amber Solutions for Care but that details still had to be fleshed out. He estimated final approval would take up to 10 days.
Mr Howell said: “This was a positive meeting with signs of real progress. There seemed to be a willingness on all sides to progress to final approval as quickly as possible.
“I urge the developer to play their part in bringing this to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible so that work can be started. It is in everyone’s interest to do so.
“However, caution is required and the champagne glasses should not be filled yet. There are still a number of hurdles which need to be overcome and I am working patiently with the Department of Health and NHS Property Services to do precisely this.”
A planning application submitted by the Amber was approved in November 2012.
The new complex will also include 44 assisted living residences and 12 homes for key workers. Construction is expected to take two years.
Cllr Reissmann said: “We now have an excellent plan for redeveloping the site and adding new services which we look forward to seeing open in 2016.
“We will make sure that the community, through the steering group, continues to scrutinise the project and makes sure that the interests of everyone who relies on Townlands is protected, as we have been doing for the last 10 years.
“We look forward to continuing to work with NHS Property Services but especially with Amber Solutions for Care.”
Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak, who is also a member of the steering group, said: “We are looking forward to celebrating the signature on the contract and meeting Amber Solutions for Care, who will soon be able to come on to the site and start the development work on our new hospital.
“I am particularly looking forward to working with the developer to ensure the community continues to be involved in the project and help to sort out some of the final details, such as landscaping, artwork, war memorials and some transport issues, where there is still some work to do.”
Town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith, a founder member of the steering group, said: “I am delighted at the good news about the approval of the development in principle. I am overjoyed that all our lobbying and pressure has at last paid off.”
He said Oxfordshire County Council approached the NHS about including the new care home and moving the hospice to Townlands in 2010, when there were doubts about the commercial viability of the redevelopment.
Cllr Nimmo Smith said: “All this gives a more robust financial position, makes better use of the site and provides a wider range of facilities in the centre of our town, which will be of benefit to us all.”
Dan Hayes, operations director for the Order of St John Care Trust, which operates Chilterns End and will run the new home, said: “It is very good news that all the efforts put in by the local community and relevant authorities will culminate in a fabulous new care home to complement the new health care services on the Townlands site.”
Councillor Ann Ducker, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “This is great news for the people of Henley and the surrounding area.
“We have been involved with this project for a long time, including granting permission for the development to take place on the Townlands site, and playing an important role on the steering group which gave residents a key outlet to address their concerns, so I really appreciate how hard people have worked to bring this project forward.
“This redevelopment will bring significant jobs to the area as well as providing the care and support facilities which will benefit many families from the South Oxfordshire community.”
NHS Property Services took over responsibility for the project on April 1 last year when primary care trusts were abolished.
The commissioning group took over responsibility for commissioning and funding the services.
The Oxfordshire Health and Royal Berks Foundation Trust is responsible for providing the existing services which will continue to be delivered throughout the development period.