Green light given to new hospital project

Watford General Hospital

Watford General Hospital - Credit: Archant

After years of wrangling and campaigning, plans to rebuild Watford General Hospital have been given the unanimous backing of the local council.

Councillors from Watford Borough Council approved plans to build a new hospital on its current Vicarage Road site at this week's meeting of the development management committee.

The new hospital will see the majority of wards housed in three finger buildings, which could be 17-storeys high, and built next to the current site.

The plans were published earlier this year after West Hertfordshire NHS Trust confirmed their preferred option was for a significant rebuild of Watford General.

The trust is currently finalising its outline business case ahead of receiving final funding for the project which is expected to cost more than £540 million.

Under the plans for a three-site approach, Hemel Hempstead Hospital is expected to lose all in-patient beds and instead focus on planned medical care and long term conditions, while St Albans City will have a focus on planned surgery and cancer care.

The trust said this fits within the NHS’s long-term strategy to provide the best care for all patients across the county by treating more people in the community, rather than in hospital.

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Speaking at the meeting, Duane Passman, the trust’s acute redevelopment programme director, warned the meeting that just under two-thirds of the current hospital falls below the minimum required standard and is having an impact on the quality of patient care.

Mr Passman said: “Achieving outline planning permission for the new Watford General is absolutely critical to securing the necessary funds for the much needed and improved healthcare facilities for the whole of west Hertfordshire.”

He added: “The Watford General Hospital development is not a like-for-like replacement. It will embrace the opportunities afforded by new medical and digital technologies, emerging models of care and also the learning that we’ve built so painfully from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The redevelopment of this site is also integral to the way in which the trust’s three hospitals will work together in the future, as each site develops a much more defined role – planned surgical care at St Albans, and planned medical care at Hemel Hempstead Hospital.”

However campaigners have argued a new greenfield site would provide the best care for the whole area.

Philip Aylett, from campaign group New Hospital Campaign, raised concerns about surface water drainage that was highlighted by Herts county council, as well as arguing the height of the buildings was unsuitable for a town like Watford.

Dr Aylett said a 17-storey block would be the tallest NHS building outside of central London, and pointed to the success of Harlow’s new Princess Alexandra Hospital which is being built on a new site, rather than on its current town centre location.

He concluded: “This scheme will cause years of disruption and risk to our hospital services, and the finished product will never provide the healing environment we have been promised. We and our families will be stuck with these high rises for 60 years unless, less like so many 1960s tower blocks, they are demolished first.”

The council’s planning officer Alice Reade acknowledged the concerns about surface water drainage, but added this was likely to come later in the process and could be debated on again at that stage.

Councillors also spoke of their concerns about the privacy of patients with 16m meters between blocks, but there was agreement that this and other issues should be discussed when the trust presents further details on their proposals and the outline application should be approved.

The permission was granted unanimously by the committee.

The trust's business case is expected to be completed before the end of 2021 or in early 2022.

The trust and its developers will be required to seek further approval from the local planning authority on any final designs ahead of construction work starting on the site.

It is expected that building work will begin on the hospital in 2023, subject to further approvals.