The Hospital

Why?

The government wants to build a big new Tweed Valley Hospital – a principle which everyone in the region wholeheartedly supports.

But there is a sudden sense of urgency which has not characterized a decade of planning.  Our local MP Geoff Provest now repeatedly insists that work will commence well before March 2019 – coincidentally the polling month for the next election, which helps understand the sudden rush after years of undelivered promises. The urgency is such that that the government’s own published official plans for the Hospital location have been trashed, along with the years of public consultation that underpinned them.  The decision to move the hospital away from Tweed Heads is 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.

It’s in such a rush that the government is quoting massive funding that does not yet exist. Despite claims to the contrary, the NSW Parliament has not voted any budget allocation for 2018/19 work on a new hospital – only minor improvements to the existing one.

There is clearly a whiff of election smoke and mirrors about the entire project.

Where?

It’s not news that the Government has chosen State Significant Agricultural Land as its preferred site. This was 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.

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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!

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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.

How Big?

Very big, though the exact size of the Hospital building is still being 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 since 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 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.

How Much?

There is NO money voted by budget pamphletparliament 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?

Who Win$?

The farmer who initially offered his land to NSW Health under the Invitation to Tender or EoI has now realized the adjoining lands will likely be targeted and sold at urban development value if the hospital proceeds. So he has not accepted 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.

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 offer.

If this is what happens, it would mark the final success 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..