Thursday, 05 August 2021

Ninth delay for new Townlands

THE long-awaited redevelopment of Townlands Hospital won’t start until next year at the earliest.

THE long-awaited redevelopment of Townlands Hospital won’t start until next year at the earliest.

NHS Property Services, which is now in charge of the £8.7 million project, says it is still negotiating with contractors over costs.

It is the ninth delay to hit the new scheme, meaning the start date has now slipped back by a total of more than three years.

Only last month, NHS Property Services said the final paperwork was about to be signed and that building work would begin this month but this week it admitted the project had fallen behind schedule again.

Interim area manager Harold Caldwell told town councillor Ian Reissmann, chairman of the Townlands Steering Group, that construction should begin in the spring.

But he wouldn’t share details of the timetable, saying it was still in draft form and “not currently robust enough to share with a wider audience”.

Mr Caldwell said: “A series of commercial meetings have been held over the last six weeks in which details surrounding the various building elements and affordability have been tested.

“This was necessary against the current backdrop of rising inflation and rising activity in the business sector.

“The tight controls within the approved business case made it necessary to negotiate these matters, particularly as the scheme is coming closer to starting on site.

“It is pleasing to report that the scheme is currently within tolerance levels as a result.”

On Tuesday, Henley Town Council voted to convene the steering group for a public meeting on November 22. It will be the first time it has met this year.

The group has urged Henley MP John Howell and representatives from NHS Property Services, NHS Thames Valley and the county and district councils to attend.

Councillor Reissmann told his colleagues: “Over the past few months, I have reported several times that I have been assured the work will be signed off soon.

“That message is becoming increasingly repetitive and there has understandably been concern about that.

“I received an email this week which appears to be a very significant change of message. It raises questions about NHS Property Services’ commitment to community engagement.

“We must get them to come and explain the current status of the project and the timetable they are working to.”

Councillor Will Hamilton said: “I have been pushing for the steering group to meet for the past three months and would have hoped, after it was discussed at the last full council meeting, that it would have met at some point recently.

“This is a very serious matter. We have not done the right thing for the people of Henley by not having this meeting. It needs to happen immediately.”

Town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith said he found the new delays at such a late stage “deeply worrying”.

He said: “It could be that this entire project stops without us having any say in the matter. NHS Property Services sounds as though it is an unaccountable body doing its own thing.

“We should be shouting from the rooftops about this. It has been going on for 10 or so years and the longer we let it drift, the less likely I think it is to go ahead.

Councillor David Silvester said: “I’m only surprised that we’re surprised by this.

“Thames Valley Police have just lost £100 million off their budget, £60million has been knocked off Oxfordshire County Council’s budget and money is generally very short for social projects.

“We are right on the back foot and will need to fight like crazy to get this thing through.”

Mr Howell said he had spent most of Monday investigating the reasons for the latest delay after being contacted by Cllr Reissmann.

He said: “I have been reassured that the deal is still going ahead, though a number of discussions and negotiations with the contractor are needed.

“I was told it is still moving forward and that the financials will be completed before Christmas.

“I will hold their feet to the fire to make sure that happens. I want the project to go ahead as planned and as quickly as possible.

“I understand people’s concerns over the timetable but I have pressed the issue as much as possible and that is the answer I received.”

The new hospital was originally expected to open in 2011 but in 2010 the project’s entire procurement plan had to be scrapped due to the risk of legal challenges.

This year, it was delayed by a further six months when insurance company Aviva stalled on the release of a £7 million loan towards its cost.

The finished “health campus” will have 18 beds and will incorporate the Sue Ryder hospice, which will move from its current home at Joyce Grove in Nettlebed. There will also be a 64-bed care home to replace Chilterns End and 44 new “key worker” homes.

The project was originally the responsibility of NHS Oxfordshire, which ceased to exist when the Government abolished primary care trusts in April. The trust has been replaced by NHS Thames Valley, a healthcare commissioning agency which is not responsible for infrastructure.

Former GP Peter Ashby, vice-chairman of the steering group, said: “Over the years we built up a good relationship with the primary care trust and the project team.

“We were able to listen to progress, provide community views as input and ensure that communication between the project and the community was successful.

“The re-organisation means we need to establish new working relationships to continue the successful community engagement which has characterised the project in recent years.”

An NHS Property Services spokeswoman said: ?It is usual with large schemes involving a number of commercial partners for meetings to take place to discuss thoroughly all aspects of the building plans in advance of work commencing on site.

?It is our core duty to satisfy all parties that the finalised plans demonstrate efficient use of public money and will deliver good value-for-money for the taxpayer.

?These meetings have been taking place over the past six weeks and the emerging picture is that the Townlands plans appear to be advancing satisfactorily, with all parties working towards the start of on-site work in the spring of 2014, or sooner, subject to compliant weather conditions.

?Although we are acutely aware that the community of Henley-on-Thames and our local stakeholders wish to see the Townlands project moving forwards, we are firmly of the belief that this time is being well-spent and will help to secure the best possible outcome for all concerned - most particularly the local NHS patients of the future.?

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