The choice of site for the new Tweed Valley Hospital has divided the community and raised questions over transparency, a lack of community consultation, and the fragmentation of state significant farmland.
Members of Relocate Tweed Valley Hospital From State Significant Farmland have highlighted a range of issues with the selected site.
Aside from their key claim that the site is state significant farmland, they point out that it is under a flight path which would limit use of emergency helicopters, and that road congestion would have a negative impact on Kingscliff residents and businesses.
Recognising the significant objections to both the site and process of site selection Health Infrastructure NSW, who are in charge of the development, have now responded to Tweed Council’s request for a reference group to consider site options for the new hospital.
Speaking to Echonetdaily Mayor Katie Milne said ‘The state government have invited the council to join the Health Infrastructure NSW reference group, and for council staff to provide technical advice.’
‘We were really hoping to get some community members on the reference group but the state government haven’t offered that. Therefore, at council last night we voted to accept the offer – and all councillors have accepted the invitation to join the group.’
Council to engage in community consultation
In a bid to address the lack of direct community involvement in the reference group, Tweed Council have called for expressions of interest from the community to establish a community reference group.
‘This will allow councillors to get information from the community in relation to community preferences and to work through the very complex questions about the various hospital sites wit the community,’ Cr Milne said.
Meanwhile, Local Nationals member for Tweed, Geoff Provest has denied accusations that he supported attempts to re-zone the current proposed site.
Speaking to Echonetdaily he said that ‘the only time I have supported development in this area was for the site for a new police station, put forward by Labor, in 2008. It didn’t go ahead.’
Nonetheless Cr Milne said there seemed to be an element of land banking in the area – the practice of buying land as an investment and holding it for future use without specific plans for its development.
‘There are developers sitting on land and hoping for it to be re-zoned,’ said Cr Milne.
‘The state government classified this land as state significant farmland. I think the community holds that farmland dear. We’ve lost a lot of the farm land to development over the years. We lost 121 hectares at Terranora for residential development in 2004. Losing the farmland makes farming that much harder to be viable.
‘They’ve been trying to get it re-zoned but council and the community have fought it off. We see this as another attempt at re-zoning.’
Mr Provest said that the process of selecting the hospital site was a balancing act and that ‘the original site abuts the residential zone and experts say that this is the best site.’
‘However, If someone can come up with a site that is better I’d only be to happy to support it.’
Current hospital to close?
Mr Provest side-stepped questions over the closure of the current hospital.
When asked by a local campaigner to guarantee that the existing Tweed Heads Hospital would still provide primary health care once the new hospital opened, Mr Provest’s office said: ‘The new hospital is designed to replace the existing facility’.
It continued, saying that ‘no consideration has yet been given by Health Infrastructure as to how the current site will be utilised – it may be sold or it may be redeveloped by NSW Health for other purposes but it will not be retained as a public hospital.’
However, this was quickly clarified by Mr Provest.
He said that ‘the new hospital will replace the old in primary service delivery, and it makes sense to have all your health services co-located, there have been no decisions made by Health Infrastructure on what role the current hospital will play in service delivery. Everything is still in the planning stage.’