Hospital site prompt action seen as vital

On the frontline . . . Dunedin City councillors David Benson-Pope and Aaron Hawkins at the launch of the Save Our Site campaign in March. PHOTO: STAR FILES

The sooner the new government gets on with acquiring land for a central city Dunedin Hospital site, the better, David Benson-Pope says.

Land could be bought under the Public Works Act or by introducing special enabling legislation, Cr Benson-Pope said.

This needed to be done quickly so individual landowners in any area involved were unable to “game particular bits” to push prices up, he said.

Cr Benson-Pope has been one of the councillors at the forefront of the Dunedin City Council Dunedin Hospital SOS campaign to retain a top-flight teaching hospital in a central city location.

The five-month campaign had been pivotal in “extracting a really strong commitment” from both major political parties and was a good example of the effectiveness of good community advocacy, he said.

The campaign was “having a cup of tea” because it had the initial commitment to the rebuild, but post-election the council would be pushing for a southern and integrated approach to the rebuild project involving the University of Otago, Otago Polytechnic, the Ministry of Health, the hospital and the council.

The only southern member of the Southern Partnership Group planning the rebuild was Southern District Health Board deputy commissioner Richard Thomson.

“The city said from the start of the campaign we wanted representation on that group so we can make sure we know what’s happening and where we could facilitate and assist in any way possible,” Cr Benson-Pope said.

There was also the issue of the existing hospital having adequate ongoing funding to keep it working until the rebuild was completed.

Cr Benson-Pope, a former Labour minister, is of the view the work on the new hospital would happen faster with a change of government.

In the long term, he sees exciting possibilities for the land occupied by the existing hospital, which could include “huge opportunities” for more campus space for the university and a central city park.

“The last thing we want to see is the current area all in high rises of whatever kind.”

It would be wonderful to have a green space so close to the central city, he said.

In August the Government announced it planned to spend $1.2billion to $1.4billion on a new hospital for Dunedin. Its preference is for the central city, but it has not yet decided between that and the Wakari Hospital site.

The SOS campaign is opposed to a rebuild at Wakari Hospital and says if the decision were made to go there it would rally the community to “strongly oppose this”.