Top MP demands farm inquiry

A FURIOUS MP is today demanding an internal inquiry after health chiefs spent half a million on land to turn it into a car park.

A FURIOUS MP is today demanding an internal inquiry after health chiefs spent half a million on land to turn it into a car park.

The Evening Star revealed last month how NHS Suffolk approved spending �475,000 to purchase farmland opposite its current headquarters in Bramford.

Managers said there were not enough spaces at its plush out-of-town headquarters in Paper Mill Lane, despite promising that parking would not be a problem when it leased the site just under three years ago.

The decision, which was taken in secret and not put before the trust's board, sparked outrage from politicians and health campaigners after the Star broke the story.

Now, the MP for Suffolk Coastal John Gummer has called for the Strategic Health Authority (SHA) to step in and find out how such a decision could have been made.

He said: “This is a major issue for the area, largely because of the significant problems of funding for the NHS.

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“We need to know how such a decision could be made. No business which runs its capital expenditure like this could survive.

“I am asking the SHA to hold an inquiry into how this decision came about, and that seems to be the proper action the SHA should take.”

A spokesman for the SHA said: “The money [spent on the sale] was devolved capital so it is a matter for the PCT. The money is calculated centrally and then allocated to PCTs who then decide what to spend it on. Spending is monitored to ensure it is within its statutory powers.

“As a public body, it is subject to an independent annual audit by the Audit Commission.”

NHS Suffolk said it had stuck to the rules over transparency and accountability when the decision to buy the farm was taken on March 19.

The matter will be reported at the board meeting in public in September.

Do you think NHS Suffolk should be subject to an inquiry for making this decision? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail

Chris Storey at SB Surveyors in Sudbury, managed the sale of the land on behalf of the owners of the farm.

It has been revealed that the land was put on the open market in July last year and the return date for informal offers was August 4 2008.

He said: “There was no asking price. It was put out to best offers.

“The purchasers were not the people who put the best offer in at the time. There were other interested parties at the time.

“There was a complicated procedure to go through.”

“It was [sold at] the right price for the time and it will be a good value purchase for the health authority.”

The Evening Star revealed in August how NHS Suffolk had splashed out the cash to buy the site, which consists of 2.5 hectares of land and a rundown farmhouse, and planned to convert into staff car parking spaces.

When the trust first leased out-of-town Rushbrook House nearly three years ago it was warned parking would be a problem because there was no public transport, and since then it has more than doubled its workforce, from 80 to 190 employees.

NHS Suffolk claimed its landlord - Braceforce - had reneged on a deal to provide more parking spaces, a claim the company has denied.

Braceforce owns Rushbrook House which is jointly leased by NHS Suffolk and private residential tenants who have been allocated specific parking slots in the building's car park.

NHS Suffolk will soon be submitting a planning application to Mid Suffolk District Council to create 70 new car parking spaces.

The farmland controversy

The decision was taken in secret by the chairman and finance director and did not go to a public board meeting.

The trust, which buys and plans healthcare in the county, wants to convert the 2.5 hectare space into car parking, and possibly transform a dilapidated farmhouse into staff facilities.

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.