FRENCHS FOREST HOSPITAL
Dr JOHN KAYE
[10.31 p.m.]: In 2006 the then New South Wales Labor Government pledged to build a level five hospital at Frenchs Forest on the northern beaches. The proposal rapidly gained enthusiastic and ongoing support from local Liberal members of Parliament. A coalition of community groups, doctors and The Greens have joined together to call on the O'Farrell Government to place a moratorium on any further development of the hospital project until a number of serious concerns about the project are addressed. Opposition to the Frenchs Forest hospital and industrial park has come from the Save Mona Vale Hospital group, including the former Independent member of Parliament and mayor of Pittwater, Alex McTaggart; clinicians such as Dr Tony Joseph from Royal North Shore Hospital and Dr Paul O'Farrell from Mona Vale Hospital; local Frenchs Forest residents who would be affected by the project; and local Greens groups on the northern beaches peninsula, who are responding to community concerns about the loss of local services and environmental impacts of the development.
The concerns of each of these groups range from the consequences of the quality of clinical services to the impacts on the stand of Duffys Forest. The hospital is inappropriately located, which will inevitably lead to the duplication of services and pressure to close services at other hospitals. The Minister for Health admitted to me in budget estimates last year that as a consequence of the Frenchs Forest hospital proposal Manly Hospital will be shut down and Mona Vale Hospital will provide only "complementary health services". In the absence of a comprehensive study of the clinical services needs of the northern beaches and the North Shore, it cannot be claimed that the proposed site will be the most cost-effective reallocation of resources. Last week at a public forum in Dee Why a group of Coalition Ministers and members of Parliament, including the Minister for Health, the Hon. Jillian Skinner, confirmed that the project is continuing despite the total costs of the project remaining largely unknown.
The Government has indicated that a large portion of the money needed for the hospital would be generated by entering into a public-private partnership. While providing a cheap fix to the budget, inevitably the community will pay more both in taxes and in reduced quality of services. Even though the Government has not called for any tenders for investment in the facility, $125 million of public money already has been set aside for the hospital proposal. This money should be redirected to the existing funds-starved hospitals on the northern beaches. The proposal would also have unacceptable environmental impacts. An important stand of the Duffys Forest Ecological Community, which has been scheduled as endangered, will be badly affected, and the proposed developments around the hospital will place further burdens on the ecological community. At the forum last week in Dee Why the Minister for Planning, the Hon. Brad Hazzard, said that the Government would shift the Duffy's Forest Ecological Community forest elsewhere to accommodate the new hospital.
In late 2010 the New South Wales Department of Planning and NSW Health placed on exhibition a State significant site study proposing new zonings and planning controls to facilitate the growth of Frenchs Forest around the future hospital. It was estimated that the centre would employ up to 25,000 people and provide an additional 1,300 homes. The business park was seen by many observers as an essential component of the development of the hospital. Without the services and value-add of nearby biomedical businesses, it was considered unlikely that a hospital in an isolated location would be viable. The overwhelming majority of submissions were opposed to the new zoning and increase in high-rise development, including new 40 metre high buildings.
The proposed hospital would also require major, expensive upgrades to the road network, including flood mitigation works, estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars that have not yet been budgeted for. The increased traffic due to a major hospital would have unacceptable impacts for the community of Frenchs Forest and commuters from the entire peninsula. Two traffic studies commissioned by Transport for NSW overwhelmingly concluded that the transport network around Frenchs Forest is already at capacity and needs significant investment in road infrastructure and public transport improvements to accommodate both the hospital and population growth over the next five years.
Since these reports were completed the Minister for Planning announced that the Government was abandoning the proposed specialised centre but was still proceeding with the hospital. This was a great victory for the campaign by local activists, including the Save Frenchs Forest community group. However, according to a report by Warringah Council staff to councillors, the results of the transport studies remain relevant as an indication of the public transport and road infrastructure upgrades which are likely to be required as part of the future planning and development of the proposed northern beaches hospital.
The member for Manly, Mike Baird, commented at the Dee Why forum, and as reported in the Manly Daily
on 2 March, that "associated infrastructure would be built to support the project", which means that the concept of the industrial park around the hospital is far from dead. The Greens enthusiastically support greater investment in the State's public hospital system but are concerned about this money being used wisely and targeted where it is needed. The proposed northern beaches hospital at Frenchs Forest risks being a white elephant that is difficult to access, duplicates services already available, places at risk the future of the existing hospitals on the northern beaches and has unacceptable impacts on the local environment and residents.