Welsh Government ‘has reneged on promise in hospital building row’
The Welsh Government has been accused of reneging on a ministerial undertaking not to destroy a field until the approval of a full business case for a controversial new cancer centre is granted.
Campaigners have been fighting for years against plans to build a New Velindre Hospital in the Whitchurch district of Cardiff on environmental and clinical grounds.
They say the project, to serve patients in Cardiff and south east Wales, will destroy a much-loved green space known as the Northern Meadows, and that the centre should be co-located with a district general hospital instead of developed on a stand-alone site.
In August Health Minister Eluned Morgan told South Wales Central MS Rhys ab Owen that a £0.258m budget allocation had been allocated for the site clearance, with work commencement “subject to approvals and dependencies, including the adoption of the Velindre Cancer Centre full business case”.
Yet clearance work has now begun, even though the full business case is not expected to be approved until next year.
The Senedd’s Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee is investigating the project, focussing on the fact that two companies belonging to the construction consortium have been convicted of bid-rigging to secure other building contracts in Japan and Spain. There are concerns that UK procurement law may have been broken.
One of the bid-rigging firms – Sacyr – is now involved in the site clearance work.
Nation.Cymru has published how two of the Acorn consortium’s members – the Kajima group and Sacyr – have been found guilty of fraud offences in Japan and Spain respectively.
Kajima was sentenced for bid-rigging in March 2021, with one of its executives receiving a suspended prison sentence and the company itself being fined 250 million yen (around £1.53m) for its role in the scandal, which involved a number of firms colluding with each other on the construction of a railway line to maximise their profits.
Sacyr received a penalty of €16.7m in July 2022 for its part in creating a cartel aimed at aligning bids for government contracts.
A spokesperson for the Save the Northern Meadows campaign said: “Eluned Morgan confirmed that vegetation clearance work on the Northern Meadows will not take place until the construction of New Velindre on this site has been approved by the Welsh Government.
“It is therefore of the utmost importance that Velindre NHS University Trust are instructed to halt their clearance works immediately until the Welsh Government has given approval for New Velindre to be built here. Every day that Velindre Trust continues with these clearance works means further destruction of nature and important wildlife habitat in Wales.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson did not address the fact that a ministerial undertaking had been broken, but said: “The work is part of the enabling works for the new Velindre Cancer Centre, which has been ongoing over the last 12 months. It is being completed within the current seasonal window and is approved by Natural Resources Wales after the scheme secured a European Protected Species licence.”
A Velindre University NHS Trust spokesman said: “We are in the process of further preparation works on the site of the new Velindre Cancer Centre after receiving the European Protected Species Licence as approved by Natural Resources Wales.
“The activity on site aligns with the ecological window. Ecologists are on site overseeing the work which includes the safe movement of wildlife to surrounding habitat. Throughout, security reviews are being maintained to ensure public and contractor safety and confidence.”
Speaking after it became clear that the clearance work would continue, the Save the Northern Meadows campaign spokesperson said: “It makes complete nonsense of the procurement process that this work is going on before the full business case for New Velindre has been approved by the Welsh Government. It gives the impression that the whole thing is a fait accompli.
“We don’t believe that the work had to be done now as part of what they call a ‘seasonal window’. This is being pushed through in spite of the very real concerns about the procurement process that are still under investigation. It’s a disgrace.”
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