NHS bosses plough on with farm car park

IPSWICH: A crippling recession, massive public funding cuts on the way - and yet still health chiefs insist on spending half a million on a farm.

Naomi Gornall

IPSWICH: A crippling recession, massive public funding cuts on the way - and yet still health chiefs insist on spending half a million on a farm.

NHS Suffolk spent in excess of �475,000 on the purchase of six acres of farmland opposite its Bramford headquarters in Paper Mill Lane.

It has now applied to Mid Suffolk District Council for planning permission to create a car park - while the public and staff still have to pay for their parking at NHS premises like Ipswich Hospital.

Health campaigners have been left astounded by the move, which comes in the wake of the country's worst economic crisis, MPs' bonuses being questioned, and heavy cuts to come in the public sector.

The plans submitted are to create 83 car parking spaces, 11 motorcycle spaces and 40 spaces for bicycles.

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A comprehensive study has been completed, which includes a bat survey report and reptile survey report.

Among the organisations it has consulted over the plans are Suffolk County Council, The Environment Agency and Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

The application states it is for the “change of use of agricultural land and buildings (excluding the dwelling house known as Paper Mill Farm) to form new parking area, including the part rebuilding, repair and reuse of existing outbuildings and related demolition works.”

These plans come despite the government's statement that the NHS needs to make �15bn to �20bn of savings from management and agency costs by the end of 2013/14, which can then be reinvested into frontline services.

Health campaigner, Peter Mellor, said: “They knew they were going to be short of parking spaces when they moved in [to the headquarters] but they ignored everyone's advice. It seems they may be trying to get this through quickly before the cuts.”

John Gummer, Suffolk Coastal MP, said: “I hope Mid Suffolk District Council will refuse planning permission on the basis of change of use from agricultural uses.

“It becomes ever more shocking [to spend this money], not least when we discover they haven't got enough money to provide a good out-of-hours service.”

An NHS Suffolk spokesman said: “We have an efficient office building, well-located within the county we serve.

“The car parking solution initially proposed did not materialise and so we have had to find an alternative, to allow the many doctors and nurses and staff who work with GPs, dentists and others, to come and go easily.

“The land at Paper Mill Farm is a financially prudent investment that is the most efficient and cost effective solution to the car parking issue we have to deal with.”

The earliest decision date for the application is February 17, although the target date for a full decision is April 19.

If you have a view on this and want to put that forward, visit www.midsuffolk.gov.uk. The application number is 3745/09.

What do you think of these plans? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

The decision to splash out �475,000 on farmland, revealed by The Evening Star last year, was taken in secret by the primary care trust's chairman and finance director and did not go to a public board meeting.

The extra parking spaces are needed partly because NHS Suffolk's staffing numbers have more than doubled from 80 employees in 2006 to 190 today.

The trust was warned in 2006 not to buy an out-of-town site with no access to public transport and little parking - but it pushed ahead regardless.

Creating the new car parking spaces will cost an extra �50,000 on top of the initial investment and legal fees will be added on top of that.