The location of the new Lower Hunter hospital still remains a hot topic for the people of Cessnock, Kurri Kurri, Branxton and Greta.
A public forum about the hospital (hosted by our Fairfax stablemate, The Maitland Mercury) was held at East Maitland Bowling Club on Monday.
About 200 people attended the forum, including a number of Cessnock councillors and residents of the local government area.
While the meeting’s main focus was the hospital’s funding model and community reaction to a public-private partnership, the suitability of the proposed site at Metford was also raised.
Hunter New England Health chief executive Michael DiRienzo hosed down claims that the hospital could be moved from Metford, but Cessnock councillor Rod Doherty says he will continue to push for the hospital to be built near the Hunter Expressway at Kurri Kurri.
Cr Doherty has been a long-time advocate for the Kurri Kurri site, saying it would service the wider Hunter Region far better than a hospital at Metford would, and would ease the burden on John Hunter Hospital.
And he has a fair point.
It will be far quicker for an ambulance under sirens and lights to travel from Branxton and the Upper Hunter via the Hunter Expressway to John Hunter Hospital than to contend with the numerous 60km/h zones and traffic lights through Rutherford and Maitland to Metford.
The 20,000 people that will eventually call Huntlee home cannot be ignored.
Following new health minister Brad Hazzard’s statement in March that everything was “back on the table” in regards to the Lower Hunter hospital, Cessnock Council moved to write to the state government, asking it to move the hospital from the proposed site at Metford to a vacant 40-hectare site next to the Hunter Expressway.
While the council should be praised for its initiative, it’s important that people aren’t being led up the garden path.
The forum was told the Metford site was “the best by far” of the 35 expressions of interest submitted, and construction of the new hospital would start by the end of next year.
Remediation work has already begun, and a change of location would only delay the project even further.
Perhaps it’s time to turn our focus onto how the new hospital will impact our existing hospitals at Cessnock and Kurri Kurri?