Updated: 13/09/12 : 05:31:49
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Appeal says 'yes' to controversial Sligo hospital plan

A Special Report

A CONTROVERSIAL plan to site a new private hospital near Carraroe roundabout with Oakfield Road has been rekindled by a Bord Pleanala decision to allow an appeal.

Seventeen conditions are attached to the Pleanala Order, with one of those conditions having a further 12 sub-sections.

Its proximity to the main Sligo/Dublin line means that that "any works adjoining or affecting the railway" require written agreement from the Railway Safety Commission.

Sligo County Council, the authority which had previously refused permission, (see SligoToday.ie 15/12/10) and Bord Pleanala's own Inspector each opposed the granting of the appeal.

Bord Pleanala made its decision with reference to the Sligo & Environs Development Plan (SEDP) 2010-2016 -- a Borough Council document.

The Pleanala Inspector noted that the Borough Council plan included objectives to encourage such facilities "...to be sited at a location which can easily be accessible by public transport and pedestrians..."

Pleanala's decision was signed on September 4th 2012 but was made at a Board meeting on August 16th, records released online have confirmed.

Pleanala Board member Michael Leahy signed off on the decision and indicated a summary of the 17 conditions on August 22nd last.

The decision and conditions were conveyed since to the principal parties and published online yesterday evening (Wednesday).

The Pleanala Inspector's Report runs to 31 pages. Board Pleanala's Order runs to seven pages.

The Council has argued, in public and private, that the location would compromise a corridor reserved for the proposed western bypass....itself part of the Atlantic Corridor proposed to run from Letterkenny to Cork.

Road Safety Audit

The Council's original refusal also said they were unhappy with the developer's archaeological impact assessment. The original refusal also considered the effect of the development on flooding in the area.

Three seasonal 'lakes' appear in the area, said the Council: One being on the proposed site. It also ruled there was inadequate sewage infrastructure.

The Inspector's Report before Bord Pleanala also noted that the applicant had not originally completed a Traffic Impact Assessment or Road Safety Audit for the development. These were provided.

The County Development Plan to 2017 added a rezoning -- opposed by the County Manager and four councillors -- expressing ''desirability'' for the private hospital at that site.

The Pleanala Inspector Paul Caprani visited Carraroe in May to assess the site of the plan, which includes consultant rooms and an 80 bed hospital and included a 40-bed respite unit.

However, in law, the Pleanala Board is not required to accept it's Inspectors' recommendations.

In its decision not to accept its Inspector's recommendation, Bord Pleanala said it ".....considered that the developer had made adequate provision for future road provision in the area......"

The appeal to Pleanala was made in name of Noel Elliott, Peter Martin and his sister Mary Gilmartin, all care of Peter Thomson, Planning Solutions, Suite 1, Burchall House, Parnell Street, Waterford.

Their plan proposed an 80 bed hospital over three storeys at the Carraroe roundabout intersection with Oakfield Road - to include a 40 bed respite unit.

Media and politicians were previously briefed that 400 jobs could be created. The total site size is 12,742 square metres, centred on a landscaped courtyard and including over 200 car park spaces.

Judicial Review

Sligo County Council made a number of submissions to Pleanala, underpinning its original decision in late 2010 to refuse planning permission. These are included in the Inspector's Report. See below.

The Pleanala Inspector's Report notes that the developers, at one stage, mooted going to the High Court for judicial review of Sligo County Council's refusal to grant it planning permission.

The developers of the Carraroe site engaged a barrister and other professionals to argue its grounds of appeal to Pleanala.

Barrister Michael O'Donnell, for the developers, told the Pleanala Inspector he believed that "...the specific objectives in the Development Plan which support the development of a healthcare facility at this location......should take precedent over other more general objectives......

Sligo County Council disputed this, the Pleanala Inspector noted: "It is argued that there is no basis to assume that one objective takes precedent over the other.

"The report (by the Council) goes on to argue that the proposed development could adversely impact on the corridor  of the city bypass route selection and that this is a strategic road objective," the Inspector told Bord Pleanala.

Site Rezoned

The Carraroe plan has been enveloped in controversy, even before the plans were formally submitted to the County Council.

In Sligo County Council, the site was rezoned in its draft County Development Plan 2011-2017 to refer to the desirability of a hospital development.

That move was opposed by the County Manager, Hubert Kearns, but his intervention was defeated 16-4 with three abstentions.

Independent councillor Michael Clarke from west Sligo led the rejection of the Manager's view and said the hospital was "vital." See record of  November 2009 vote, below.

Celtic Tiger mania

No less than three private hospitals were mooted for Sligo during the Celtic Tiger mania, including (i) Carraroe (ii) Roundabout  and (iii) the now abandoned plan by the Minister for Health, Ms Harney, to co-locate a private hospital adjacent to Sligo General.

The most ambitious proposal was undoubtedly the Carraroe plan.

Public Patients

Its developers tried to tap into the public mood AND argued it would provide benefits to public patients. Carraroe's developers noted that in 2008 Sligo had the fourth highest number of patients waiting more than a year for surgery.

They said that, through National Treatment Purchase fund, public patients had the opportunity to have procedures carried out in private hospitals, which had facilitated the reduction of waiting lists for many procedures and alleviated the stresses placed on the public system.

No existing facility served the north west of Ireland for such work, local politicians were brief.

It was against that background that independent councillor Michael Clarke persuaded 15 of his colleagues on the County Council to rezone the site with specific mention of a hospital.

Public Mood

The Carraroe proposal tapped, accidentally or otherwise, into the public mood in Sligo for a range of cancer services.

It is open to question that Carraroe could deliver, ever, on cancer service aspects it mentioned in passing, such as radiotherapy.

Both the capital and current-side cost specifications of providing radiotherapy are notoriously expensive.

In Connacht, radiotherapy is only currently offered at only one private hospital, the Galway Clinic at Doughiska.

The new radiotherapy unit at Co Derry is being funded by TWO governments, Dublin and Belfast.

In all of those configurations there seems scant likelihood that a private hospital at Carraroe could ever offer radiotherapy -- one of its early Unique Selling Points in the public mind.

Dogmatic Attitude

Mr Noel Elliott, one of the key directors behind the Carraroe proposal, is Chair of the company which built the new 330 bed acute South West Hospital at Enniskillen.

The Enniskillen hospital was commissioned in June.....BUT whose future status is already not assured/protected under current policy reviews in Stormont.

Stormont Health Minister Edwin Poots indicated last December there will be further rationalisation in current acute hospital numbers.

Acute hospitals in the North will be cut from ten to to as few as five (max of seven) in the lifetime of the current health policy to 2017, which was published last December. Crucially, Enniskillen is not protected in any cutback.

A key factor in determining the future of the new Enniskillen hospital, built at a cost of £276 million sterling, will be it's ability to attract clients/referrals from counties such as Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal.

"I am open to the idea of the Republic of Ireland buying services in Northern Ireland which will then enable us to sustain many of the services which we have in our border hospitals," Minister Poots said eight months ago. A "mapping exercise" such potential linkages is already under way.

A member of the Carraroe developer's team has clashed with banks in the past.

ACC Bank secured a judgement for 47 million euro in the Commercial Court in May 2010 against  Mary Gilmartin of Avena House Ballisodare, Co Sligo, of which an estimated 37.3 million euro was stated by ACC to be personal guarantees. She described ACC as having a "dogmatic" attitude.
See SligoToday.ie 11/5/10 and  SligoToday.ie 14/5/10

Ms Gilmartin also owns Summerville Nursing Home in Strandhill, which was officially opened by the Minister for Health, Mary Harney on June 10th 2005.

Summerville's annual accounts are fully up to date and were last received by the Companies Registration Office (CRO) in June 2012.

A member of the Martin family which once owned the Grand Hotel in Teeling Street, Mary Gilmartin became a significantly wealthy woman in her own right.

Her husband, Pat Gilmartin, former bookie and native of Arigna, Co Roscommon, is also a big time developer but not named as any part of the Carraroe plan.

It would be interesting to know what odds he would lay this September on the Carraroe hospital coming to fruition...and whether these have shortened or lengthened in the face of 29 total planning conditions to be met.

County Council Vote

FOR (16): Martin Baker, Mary Barrett, Patsy Barry, Michael Clarke, Thomas Collery, Jude Devins, Michael Fleming, Margaret Gormley, Deirdre Healy McGowan, Imelda Henry (now Senator), Jerry Lundy, Matt Lyons, Pat McGrath, Tony McLoughlin (now TD), Dara Mulvey and Rosaleen O'Grady

AGAINST (4): Declan Bree, Hubert Keaney, Joe Leonard and Gerard Mullaney.

ABSTAINED (3): Veronica Cawley, Sean MacManus and Jimmy McGarry.

Link to Pleanala Inspector's Report and Pleanala Order: http://www.pleanala.ie/casenum/238276.htm

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