The long-awaited half-billion-dollar Canberra Hospital expansion project has hit another roadblock with Garran residents fearing plans to move the Emergency Department entrance away from Yamba Drive to opposite the primary school will put their children at risk.
The new ED is to be located on the corner of Palmer Street and Gilmore Crescent near Garran Primary School, and ambulances will access the ED via Palmer Street.
Long-time Garran resident and school parent Jennifer Berget said residents were concerned about the traffic increase, including ambulances rushing to the ED, and the safety of children walking and riding to school.
“The corner of Palmer Street and Gilmore Crescent is bad enough as it is. We don’t want it to get any worse,” she said.
With drop-off and pick-up times already a bit chaotic, Garran was one of the first schools to get a crossing supervisor.
“I’ve had to pull children back off zebra crossings because cars didn’t stop,” she said.
Ms Berget said it did not seem logical to move the ED entrance away from a main arterial road to a residential street.
She said the community felt blindsided by the announcement at a meeting on 26 September and the Garran Residents Association had launched a petition calling for the government to reconsider.
“People were shocked that ambulances would be accessing the new ED opposite their driveway,” she said.
Ms Berget said there were also concerns for ambulance staff taking patients to hospital having to negotiate the area.
Canberra Liberals health spokesperson Vicki Dunne said the government had not thought through the situation and needed to either take action to ameliorate the problem or relocate the SPIRE project to a different site.
“Canberra Hospital has the third biggest emergency room in the country and when you look at peer hospitals none of those hospitals has a major entry point on a suburban road,” Mrs Dunne said.
“None have a major entry point across the road from a primary school with over 600 children.”
She said there were about 100 ambulance movements a day in and out of Accident and Emergency, with 20,000 arrivals last year. The proposed entrance was possibly the worst location in terms of interface with lots of vulnerable road users.
Mrs Dunne said with the project at such an early stage and construction not due to start until 2021, there was still time for the government to make changes.
She would not say whether the government should hold off on the project until after next year’s election but said with such a large amount of money at stake the government needed to get the hospital expansion right. But Mrs Dunne said the Opposition would not be in the business of tearing up contracts if it won power next year.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the ACT Government had only begun consulting with Garran residents and she had written to the president of the school board and the Residents Association on Wednesday.
She said Major Projects Canberra was doing detailed work to understand the net traffic impact of the SPIRE project, given that there would be quite a lot of traffic redirected as a result of existing activities moving from the site.
“As soon as the traffic study is done we’ll share it with the community and work though it,” she said.
Ms Berget, who has grown up in the shadow of the hospital, said she and the Garran community were acutely aware of its needs but “as a mum I believe it’s everybody’s responsibility to look after the safety of children and to prioritise that, and I’d like the government to prioritise that that as well”.