The government intends to build a big new Tweed Valley Regional Hospital – a principle which everyone in the region wholeheartedly supports.
But there is a sudden sense of urgency which has not been seen in a decade of planning. Despite having no rezoning approval or Development Consent for a Hospital, the State Government erected a kilometre of announcement signage and performed massive earthworks on site; mainly in the sector it gazetted only a year ago as “protective wetland buffer” insisting now as the new agricultural land owner it needs to build (hospital standard) water quality control devices to “protect” the wetland. In the meantime they encouraged local people to submit their objections to the exhibited EIS saying that the decision was not yet made and their objections will be taken seriously. Their pre-emptive actions suggested otherwise.
Tweed Council’s objections to the un-approved proposal and pre-emptive construction were founded on multiple policy breaches & inconsistencies but were disregarded. Council even went so far as to obtain legal advice from Senior Counsel in Sydney – a firm recognized as leaders in Environmental Law. Their advice was that the building work done before rezoning or development consent was, in their opinion, illegal and should be terminated. The government chose to ignore that advice, and the Council then elected not to instigate proceedings against the Government; perhaps partly because the government retains the right of dismissal of Councils who the Minister judges to have acted “against the interests of the community”, an offence laden with subjectivity.
The urgency to beat the March election deadline was such that the government’s own published official plans for the Hospital location were trashed, along with the years of public consultation that underpinned them. The decision to move the hospital away from Tweed Heads was simply the Health Minister’s personal over-ruling of the Planning Minister’s 2017 North Coast Regional Plan, and thus all those government endorsed plans adopted by Tweed Council which depend on it. Neither they nor the public were ever consulted before the announcement.
In its rush, the government quoted massive funding that did not yet exist. Despite claims to the contrary, the NSW Parliament had not voted any budget allocation for 2018/19 work on a new hospital – only minor improvements to the existing one.
The “concept DA approval” and “preliminary EIS approval” were not on hand for the NSW State Election in March 2019 , but the Government still claimed the Hospital was “under construction”. It cannot really commence significant works until it submits and has approved a second full EIS sometime in late 2019 if lucky. The clear whiffs of election smoke and mirrors pervade the entire project.
Controversially the Government has chosen State Significant Agricultural Land as its preferred site. This was allegedly because “additional infrastructure costs (of other sites) would significantly impact on the budget available to build clinical space.” (Hon. Brad Hazzard media release 16-07-18). For many citizens this offends their value systems. It is equivalent to choosing (say) Centennial Park for a new corridor for the M1 Motorway, just because it’s the easiest cheapest place to build a motorway. For some, choosing to concrete over our best well-watered prime food-growing land during one of the worst droughts in history and in the face of worsening climate change is just simply irrational. For others, it’s the loss of a sense of place, losing the connection of the town to its rural environment feels like a loss of identity.
As far as excellent local food growing land is concerned, the Cudgen Plateau is simply the pearl in the oyster. It is the last unfragmented block of State Significant working farmland left in the entire Tweed Valley. All the remainder has fallen to land developers.
(View official farming map here.) It really IS Significant!
The proposed hospital site is on 23 hectares opposite the Kingscliff TAFE – itself the subject of extensive public objection when it was installed on land zoned prime agricultural land in 1994, when the National Party was last in power.
It is also directly in the southern arrival flight path for Coolangatta Airport. (See map.) Interestingly Health Infrastructure NSW has discarded other possible sites because of their flight path locational conflict with the 24 hour heliport movements to and from the Hospital.
Very big, though the exact size of the Hospital & ancillary buildings is yet decided.
In its SEARs application the government said it would be a 450 bed hospital with provision for duplication. That’s an ultimate 900 bed hospital. Health infrastructure NSW has notified nearby residents the proposed Site Specific SEPP will cater for a building envelope of 9 stories.
Some useful comparisons: At his post-announcement “consultation” meeting Minister Hazzard said Stage 1 alone would be 450 beds. That’s 30% bigger than the multi-storey John Flynn private hospital at Tugun and around the size of the new Robina Hospital. The latest 350 bed NSW public hospital at Maitland has a 750 space on-site carpark, putting on-site parking at Kingscliff at around 1000 vehicles. This would be a larger carpark and traffic generator than the huge Tweed Heads Centro Shopping Mall adjacent to the present hospital. Health Infrastructure NSW has indicated the ultimate form of the hospital will likely be 900 beds – that is 20% bigger than the present Gold Coast University Hospital at Southport – making Kingscliff the home of the biggest hospital in NSW, north of Newcastle.
Best practice suggests the hospital will need to be multi-storey from the beginning,, thus permanently undermining the hard-fought 3 storey height limit for Kingscliff, Cudgen, and the Tweed coast villages..
Because its “precinct” status requires hospital related services to cluster around a Level 5 hospital, the impact reality is much larger than just the hospital itself, as explained in more detail under Kingscliff & Cudgen Impacts. As all current urban-zoned land close-by is fully developed, the Tweed Valley Health Precinct will have to extend over even more prime agricultural land – probably consuming all the remaining farmland between Kingscliff and Cudgen, thus amalgamating the two villages.
None of these drastic planning changes has been deemed worthy of mention, let alone community consultation by the government.
There was NO money voted by parliament in the NSW 2018/19 State Budget for either land purchase or construction of a Hospital at Kingscliff.
The Member for Tweed keeps quoting Forward Estimate expenditure in subsequent years when his Party may or may not be in government.
The Minister’s quoted future budget figure is presently around the half-billion dollar mark. Research suggests new hospitals on this scale tend to cost about twice the government’s quoted figure. The question then remains – is the possible under-quote and continuing reticence to stump up a real budget item only a stalking horse for one more government attempt at last minute “discovering” of a funding shortfall and then announcing the desperate need for a Public-Private Partnership to replace the current public hospital? Despite failing five times with previous new NSW Hospitals, is this one more covert attempt at back-door privatization?
The farmer who initially offered his land to NSW Health under the Invitation to Tender or EoI subsequently realized the adjoining lands will likely be targeted and sold at urban development value if the hospital proceeds. So he declined the Government’s “farm-value” offer of settlement. Undeterred, the Government has now forcibly acquired title to his land by resumption. If and when it proceeds, this site will then form the important nucleus of the Government’s new Regional Health Precinct. But after providing the mandatory buffers from wetland, bushfire hazard and agricultural spray drift, the remnant land can barely accommodate a hospital, let alone a cluster of allied health and private health providers.
Subsequent sales of nearby lands could be expected to realize windfall profits for vendors within the future Regional Health Precinct – at up to ten times the rate per hectare of the government hospital site payout.
If this is what happens, it would mark the final successful chapter of a long history of failed attempts to release the Cudgen-Kingscliff farmlands for extensive urban development. (It is worth reading the history of advocacy for these changes on the media history pages of this site.)
Whether by happenstance or design, the prospects of windfall capital gains will have been realized for land holders in the vicinity..