Planning Minister Mick Gentleman has called in the $600 million Canberra Hospital Expansion project to ensure it stays on schedule, but he cannot say how much time his intervention may save.
Mr Gentleman said the approval came with conditions addressing areas of community concern, and he was confident the planning authority had made a rigorous assessment of the development application.
He rejected assertions that the move had undermined the planning system, saying it was important the project stays on schedule. However, there did not appear to be any evidence that it would be delayed significantly.
“It’s important for the Canberra community that this project goes ahead in a timely manner,” he said. “It’s important that a minister can step in and make these decisions.”
He said it was rare to use the call-in powers, but it always involved an important project for the ACT.
Recent call-ins include the Manuka Oval media centre in 2018, the Dickson shops development in 2019 and last year the Common Ground social housing project, also in Dickson.
Mr Gentleman said there had not been any representations from the Chief Minister or Health Minister to speed up the process.
He said there had been no work to assess how long the DA would have taken to be approved in the normal fashion, only stating that it “would have taken a bit longer”.
The conditions imposed include a revised configuration for Hospital Road North and a long-term parking plan.
The approval covers these, as well as the reconfiguration of the existing emergency drop-off.
Last year the ACT Greens attacked the Minister for ramming through development decisions, and the Canberra Liberals criticised him for bypassing community consultation.
Greens planning spokesperson Jo Clay said today that the party opposed the use of call-in powers that nullify appeal rights, saying it shows a failure of community consultation.
“Projects should be planned and run properly, and communities should be consulted early enough that call-in powers simply aren’t needed,” she said.
But Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the approval reflected the strong level of community engagement and consultation on the hospital project over the last 18 months and that there had only been nine representations made on the DA.
Ms Stephen-Smith said those community and clinical reference groups would continue to meet and have input as the detailed design is finalised through the construction phase.
She said it meant Canberrans would have access to the expanded health facilities as soon as possible and that construction would start later in the year.
“It’s really exciting to see the project taking another big step forward,” she said.
The long-awaited new Critical Services Building would deliver a bigger Emergency Department, more theatres, more Intensive Care Unit beds and state-of-the-art facilities for staff, patients and families.
Ms Stephen-Smith said the project, to be built by Multiplex, remained on track for completion in 2023-24 and on budget.
Demolition of buildings 5 and 24 was underway, and nine projects had already been delivered, including the new administration facility in building 28, refurbishments to buildings across the campus and the new Building 8, which opened last month.