Councillor Martin Klute: 'It is not some conspiracy'
Published: 29 March, 2013
by TOM FOOT
QUESTIONS have been raised over how much the Town Hall knew about the planned sell-off of the Whittington Hospital site after documents emerged this week that council chiefs had been eyeing up the site for housing since at least 2010.
Accusations of any “conspiracy” were strenuously denied.
Claims in January that the Town Hall had been “left in the dark” over the NHS Trust’s plans to sell off the north section of its site appear to be undermined by a report agreed in a full council meeting in February 2011.
The Islington Core Strategy marked out the “potential redevelopment of parts of the [Whittington] site” as one of many “opportunities” for future social housing projects in Archway.
It said the land had been identified in Islington Council’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) – a document first made public in June 2010.
The documents flagged up a “residential led redevelopment of [Whittington] ancillary buildings” on a precisely measured 13,300 square metres of land that “includes the main hospital site”.
Explanatory notes added that the land could be used as part of wider regeneration of Archway that could bring 800-1,400 new homes over 15 years. There were concerns about the Highgate Hill and Hornsey Lane conservation areas, listed buildings on the hospital site, trees and even protected views of St Paul’s Cathedral.
In February the Whittington’s chief executive, Dr Yi Mien Koh, told the Tribune that the hospital had entered into talks with the Town Hall over developing a planning brief.
Dr Koh said she wanted to work with the council to “maximise the returns for the [hospital] Trust”, adding: “I have already talked to the council about this. They have made that request and we have had that conversation. We need to get together to develop a planning brief. We will do that.
“I was discussing with the director of adult social services and housing about what we can do. We are integrating social care in Islington, and they are the planning authority. As we move forward, we need to work together on the best way to maximise returns for the Trust.”
At the time these claims were denied by the council, which issued a strongly worded statement saying no talks had taken place.
Last week, Councillor Martin Klute, chairman of the health scrutiny committee, said that the first councillors knew about the Whittington fire sale was in the Tribune’s exclusive, adding: “If officers knew anything about it before, then they were keeping it quiet from members.”
Yesterday, Cllr Klute said: “I know about that [Core Strategy] report. We all saw that document. But that doesn’t tell us that the Whittington was trying to flog it off. What it says is that if the Whittington did try and dispose of it, these are what our preferences would be. It has been generated by pressure from government on the council to identify sites for potential housing. It isn’t evidence of a conspiracy.”
He added: “It is not some conspiracy because I imagine those buildings were already empty at the time that document was written. It is not evidence that we were interested in the site, it is purely a wishlist of what we could do if the site became empty.”
The Core Strategy report said any redevelopment at the Whittington would need to be “subject to an assessment of future health provision in the borough”.
Council leader Catherine West said: “Our position has always been that we believe the government should step in to block the current plans and insist that the Whittington develops a plan to protect future health care services.
“Our planning policies reinforce our position. In relation to this site, they state that redevelopment of any building is subject to ensuring future health care services are met.
“The Whittington has failed to show how future health care needs will be met.
“There have been no discussions between the Whittington and the council’s planning service about a planning brief for this site.”
The Whittington board’s decision in January to sell off a huge expanse of land, axe hundreds of staff and shut down patient wards was revealed in the Tribune in January.
Barrister Patricia Napier, a Conservative candidate at last week’s by-election, said: “They should have been aware of the effect it would have had on people. They should have said, ‘you have got to go out and consult’.”
The Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition has called a day of action next month to show the campaign to save the Highgate hospital is alive and kicking. On Wednesday, NHS protest songs drowned out a board meeting while bosses were warned by sell-off campaigners: “We’ll be back.”
The board has set a new target of June to submit its crucial application for Foundation Trust status or face “direct intervention of external bodies”.
The board wants to move healthcare services in the community at a time that it is forced to strip £70m off its budget over the next five years.