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Millions of pounds ‘unaccounted for’ in controversial Velindre project

15 Mar 2024 5 minute read
Cardiff’s Northern Meadows. Photo Gareth James is marked cc-by-sa/2.0

Martin Shipton

Campaigners believe that millions of pounds of public money are unaccounted for after one part of a controversial hospital development was cancelled.

Clinicians, environmentalists and residents have opposed the building of a new stand-alone Velindre cancer centre on a much loved green site known as the Northern Meadows at Whitchurch, Cardiff, arguing that it should be colocated with a general hospital instead.

Recently it was decided that the project would be slightly scaled back, with one rather than two access bridges built across a railway cutting.

But despite seeking assurances that the money saved would all be returned to NHS Wales, campaigners are dissatisfied with the answers they have received and plan to call on Audit Wales to investigate.

Capital funding

In 2022 the Welsh Government provided capital funding of £28.089m to Velindre University NHS Trust to prepare the landlocked site for the new cancer centre.

In March 2021 Vaughan Gething, then the Health Minister, and Rebecca Evans, the Finance Minister, had confirmed their support for the Outline Business Case for these preparatory works. Known as the Enabling Works, they included building two access bridges across the Forest Farm Nature Reserve railway cutting.

However a recent planning application submitted in January 2024 stated that one of these bridges, planned to go through the Hollybush housing estate, was no longer going to be built.

Although Velindre never provided the individual cost of constructing the Hollybush bridge, campaigners with the support of professional expertise believe it would be around £5m.

The intention had been to build it between two blocks of flats and across the Forest Farm Nature Reserve railway cutting.

From 2016 local people had campaigned against the building of this bridge, saying no regard had been given to the residents of the estate, in particular those living in sheltered accommodation within metres of the proposed bridge.

Chemotherapy treatment

The Save the Northern Meadows campaign wrote to Health Minister Eluned Morgan, asking her to confirm that the full cost of building the Hollybush bridge would now be returned to NHS Wales. It could, for example, be spent on providing more chemotherapy treatment in hospitals closer to patients’ homes, suggests the campaign.

Baroness Morgan’s office replied: “The funding originally allocated to the Hollybush Emergency Access bridge is to be allocated to the Revised Emergency Access to the south of the new site.”

However, argue the campaigners, the cost of this Revised Emergency Access through Whitchurch Hospital formed part of the original Enabling Works contract, and had funding allocated for its construction as part of the capital funding of £28.089m. Indeed, the road has already been built by Walters UK who are Velindre Trust’s contractors for the Enabling Works.

The reply from Baroness Morgan’s office continued: “This change requires Welsh Government approval as part of the Enabling Works Full Business Case Addendum that is to be submitted shortly.”

So, argue the campaigners, if this is the case, why has this Access Road been built prior to the Welsh Government approving the funding for it? Nowhere in Velindre papers is there any reference to the fact that the funding originally allocated to the Hollybush Emergency Access bridge will be reallocated to the southern Emergency Access road.

Ian Vincent of the Save the Northern Meadows campaign said: “Where exactly is the approximately £5m that has been saved by the Hollybush bridge not being built? It clearly can’t have been spent on the access road through Whitchurch Hospital, as this has already been built and paid for through Welsh Government funding of the enabling works to prepare the site? We believe this money must be returned to NHS Wales to spend on frontline patient services.”

A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: “Velindre will respond to you on this.

Revised plans

A spokesperson for Velindre University NHS Trust said: “The new Velindre Cancer Centre Enabling Works FBC was allocated funding for an emergency access route through the Hollybush estate. The original emergency access planning application was approved by Cardiff council in 2017 as part of the outline planning permission for the new cancer centre.

“Following discussions with local representatives, community leaders and local residents, in October 2022 the Trust published revised plans for an emergency access with an alternative through Whitchurch Hospital grounds. The plans were approved by Cardiff council in February 2023.

“The funding originally allocated to the Hollybush estate route is to be allocated to the revised emergency access to the south of the new site. Any surplus funding not required will be returned to the Welsh Government in accordance with national policies.”

Mr Vincent, an experienced construction professional with his own consultancy business who has a detailed understanding of the commercial and contractual sides of developments such as this, said the statement from Velindre failed to address any of the group’s concerns.

He added: “I have asked to discuss the details of the contract and payments with Welsh Government officials, but they have not agreed to do so. In the circumstances we shall be asking Audit Wales to carry out an investigation.”


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Rhddwen y Sais
Rhddwen y Sais
26 days ago

Westminster’s fault.

David
David
26 days ago

Has VG been involved!

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
26 days ago
Reply to  David

Seems so.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
25 days ago

Perhaps the Health Minister and Alcohol Trade Envoy could explain where the missing millions might be, not in India by any chance…

Shifter
Shifter
23 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

In brown envelopes

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