20 August 2020

Committee wants Auditor-General to probe Canberra Hospital expansion project

| Ian Bushnell
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An artist's impression of a section of the Canberra Hospital expansion

An artist’s impression of a section of the Canberra Hospital expansion. The siting of the new Emergency Department has been contentious. Image: ACT Government.

A Legislative Assembly committee has called for the Auditor-General to probe the ACT Government’s health infrastructure planning, including the SPIRE Project at Canberra Hospital, and the way community consultation was conducted for the $500 million expansion project.

The committee also recommended that Canberra Health Services be required to conduct master plans for each major hospital and review them every five years.

It added that the Health Directorate should have to gauge 10-year demand for services in the region, devise a plan to deliver them and review these every five years.

The expansion plans go back more than a decade, have been subject to design and siting changes and been a hot political issue, including around whether the expansion has been funded sufficiently and future demand calculated accurately.

The Standing Committee on Urban Planning and Urban Renewal inquired into the planning for the Surgical Procedures, Interventional Radiology and Emergency Centre (SPIRE) and the Canberra Hospital campus and immediate surrounds after an Assembly petition was launched amid community disquiet about the ACT Government’s siting of the facility, its potential impact on nearby residents, and a lack of public consultation.

Committee chair Caroline Le Couteur said the inquiry clearly identified an urgent need for additional medical facilities in Canberra but also found that the local community, clinicians and health care consumers had very reasonable concerns about the project.

”These concerns include the development progressing in the absence of a precinct master plan, increased traffic, reduced access to parking and public transport, pedestrian and student safety, inadequate disability accessibility, increased noise levels, the functional capacity of the proposed facilities, and the overt lack of consultation and engagement,” she said.

The lack of a master plan for the Garran campus was a key concern and many believed the SPIRE project, now know as the Canberra Hospital expansion, was being conducted in an ad hoc manner.

The committee also identified the constraints of the campus, which it said was spilling over its boundaries.

It recommended that the government ensure the master plan process look beyond the precinct to include other nearby government sites such as the former Woden CIT and the Garran Primary School oval, as well as identify facilities and functions that can no longer be catered for within the precinct and need to be moved to other parts of Canberra.

The Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate should also investigate the need for land for private health facilities and supporting services near the hospital precinct, including Garran Shops and the Deakin Business Precinct.

The siting of the new Emergency Department entrance in Palmer Street, later changed to Hospital Road, and the impact of ambulances using residential streets, particularly past Garran Primary School, upset the community, which felt the government was steamrolling it.

The committee said it was important that government agencies changed their attitude to community consultation so it is transparent, timely and respectful.

”Developing a master plan is also key to making sure that this failure of consultation does not happen again,” it said.

Other recommendations call for better traffic management, parking and transport options.

The committee made 26 recommendations, and Ms Le Couteur said that while some are critical of the government, they are aimed at not only improving the project as it moves through the design and construction phases, but all future health projects in the ACT.

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