11:01AM, Wednesday 23 August 2017
Heatherwood Hospital will undergo a £90 million transformation after councillors approved its redevelopment at a meeting last night (Tuesday).
A packed out public gallery watched on at The Royal Berkshire Hotel as members of the Borough-wide Development Management Panel discussed the application.
The plans, submitted by the Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust (FHFT), included building a new elective care hospital on greenbelt land next to the current hospital and demolishing the old building to make way for up to 250 new homes.
Sir Andrew Morris, chief executive of FHFT, told councillors at the meeting that refusing the plans could leave services at Heatherwood under threat of closure.
He said: “This is the biggest decision our board will ever make and we are trying really hard to make it work for local people and the economics of the development.
“If the project is rejected, there’s absolutely no prospect of delivering a brand new hospital on the site.”
A host of speakers argued in favour of the application at the meeting including Lesley Hunter, a campaigner from the collective Save Heatherwood Hospital (SHH) group.
She told the panel: “In 2022 it will be 100 years since Heatherwood Hospital was founded.
“What an opportunity to create a legacy for the area.”
Royal Borough planning officers recommended councillors to refuse the application due to the ‘significant area of woodland’ which would be lost due to parking proposals at the site.
The trust’s parking provision was also criticised, with only 450 spaces proposed for the new site compared to the 469 which are currently available.
Cllr David Hilton (Con, Ascot and Cheapside) said that plans for five-storey blocks of flats on the site near Ascot High Street were unacceptable to nearby residents.
But Cllr Colin Rayner (Con, Horton and Wraysbury) urged his fellow councillors to ‘be brave’ and oppose the recommendation to refuse the application by council officers.
He said: “Is the treatment of our sick people more important than a few trees? Is a hospital in our town more important than the greenbelt?”
Councillors voted against a motion to defer the application and instead chose to approve the multi-million redevelopment, subject to conditions on issues including parking.
Speaking after the meeting, Sir Andrew Morris said the trust hoped to begin work on the development in March but maintained building decked parking on the site was too expensive.
He said: “We want to put as much money as possible to direct patient care.
“No one is going to thank you for your fantastic car park if you’ve got a smaller hospital.
“But for people to sit here for the best part of three hours and really support what we’re trying to do was really gratifying.”