Cessnock councillor Rod Doherty has vowed to fight for the new Lower Hunter hospital to be moved next to the Hunter Expressway “until the foundation stone is laid”.
This is despite Hunter New England Local Health District chief executive Michael Di Rienzo telling a public forum on Monday that the Metford site was “the best by far” of the 35 expressions of interest that were submitted, and that construction of the new hospital would begin by the end of next year.
Cr Doherty said the forum only strengthened his argument for the relocation of the new hospital to a site near the expressway at Kurri Kurri.
“The new hospital should be there to service the whole of the Hunter and to take pressure off John Hunter Hospital,” he said.
“But now it is just a watered-down version of that – a replacement for Maitland Hospital.
“I firmly believe it isn’t in the best interests of the broader Hunter community.”
He says the Metford site has been “ill thought out” and has many planning issues, including contamination from the former brickworks.
“It’s not a greenfield site, it’s a brownfield site with industry going back 100 years,” he said.
“We need to revisit the selection process. It should be along the Hunter Expressway corridor.”
Cr Doherty has been a vocal advocate for the hospital to be built along the expressway since before construction commenced in 2010.
The idea first came about when about 50 university town planning students visited Kurri Kurri in 2010 to do a comprehensive study on town and the impact of the Hunter Expressway.
“Their conclusions were that an emergency services precinct and regional hospital should be constructed in the expressway corridor,” he said.
In 2011, Cr Doherty heard talk that the NSW Government was planning to built a 400-bed regional hospital in the Lower Hunter to take the brunt off John Hunter Hospital.
He thought the expressway would be the ideal location, and after Hydro Aluminium closed in October 2012 he thought that would be a “perfect” site.
“It’s a massive parcel of land,” he said. “It would service right through to the Upper Hunter.”
Cr Doherty said he did not believe it was too late to move the hospital.
He said the remediation that was under way at the Metford site could be completed and the land used for another purpose (such as a sporting field).
And while the councillor believes the government is locked into Metford, he said he will continue to push for them to change their minds.
“We’ll keep rattling the sabre until the foundation stones are laid,” he said.
Cessnock councillors have sought a meeting with Health Minister Brad Hazzard MP to urge him to consider moving the hospital.