‘A raw deal for Waltham Forest’

Whipps commentator Mary Burnett on the hospital’s outline planning permission

Protestors outside the planning committee meeting for the new hospital
Protestors outside the planning committee meeting for the new hospital

The first ever proposals for the new Whipps Cross Hospital, published by Barts Health NHS Trust in 2017, envisioned “the establishment of an integrated health, social care and health and wellbeing campus, bringing together a collection of connected services, teams and supporting infrastructure …. to provide holistic care and wellbeing to the local population designed around their needs.” Four years of negotiation later and, on 24th November, this rosy vision resulted in the plans actually agreed by Waltham Forest Council’s planning committee: a hospital squeezed into a corner of its current site and surrounded by up to 1,500 new homes.

So how did we get here? As with most crises facing Waltham Forest today, the pollution in our water supply started upstream, with gross underfunding from the national government. Nonetheless, this knowledge does not absolve the authorities working in our supposed best interest from an obligation to try to stem the tide.

Barts estimates it will cost £870million to rebuild Whipps, almost £100m less than the cost of the new Edmonton Incinerator for those keeping score at home and far, far more than the government seems willing to pay. The trust therefore has to scramble to maximise its own contribution, which has motivated the sale of more than half the hospital’s land to a housing developer. Conveniently, it has paid consultants millions [issue 81, p15] to discover that the hospital’s size is unnecessary because health services can be shunted over to “The Community”, a previously undiscovered neighbourhood in Waltham Forest that does not suffer from the same lack of resources.

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So what about the role of our councillors at the planning committee, scrutinising and questioning the plans? Their job is to represent our interests and make sure they really will meet the needs of residents but, to many watching, they seem to have been asleep at the wheel.

A series of residents and health campaigners poured their hearts, lived experiences and extensive research out to councillors at the meeting last month. They fear trimming the so-called fat from the hospital site will really mean losing services patients have come to rely on there, which Barts insists will be re-provided in The Community, postcode TBD. But councillors didn’t seem that interested in talking about the land being lost, for which I suspect a number of reasons. More than 1,000 homes will take a huge chunk out of the council’s housing target, regardless of how expensive they end up being, while council tax from all those residents would generate income it needs in the face of eviscerating funding cuts.

It seems if the council can’t get the “Fair Deal” they’re clamouring for from the government, then an unfair one will have to make do, even if it’s at the expense of our hospital. One of the public speakers told councillors that “in 30 years time, your successors will be cursing you” should such a massive sale of NHS land for housing be agreed. In the end, not only was it agreed, the vote was unanimously in favour.

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