Red House Health Centre hopes revived
Renewed hopes that the long-promised NHS Health and Wellbeing Centre on the Harpenden Memorial Hospital ‘Red House' site in Carlton Road might actually materialise were raised at a public meeting held by Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (HVCCG) in mid-September.
For most people in Harpenden it came ‘out of the blue', after a year or more of mounting local frustration – even despair – especially for the Friends of the Red House and the Red House Forum pressure group, that the Centre would ever see the light of day.
Earlier this year the announcement that the responsibility for adult community services was to be handed over from Hertfordshire Community Trust (HCT) to a much larger, and seemingly more faceless, body, the Central London Community Healthcare Trust (CLCH) appeared only (to borrow a currently popular phrase) ‘to kick the can further down the road'.
At the September meeting David Evans, HVCCG's director of commissioning, acknowledged the frustration resulting from the evident lack of progress on the Red House project, but pledged that the programme would start to be delivered ‘from October 1'. Kathy Walker, CLCH's director of operations, cautioned however that (in mid-September) approval from the Department of Health for the transfer of the Red House site to CLCH was still awaited.
Ms Walker asserted that the transfer of responsibility to a body with ‘Central London' in its title would not be detrimental to local Harpenden needs. The Trust was, she added, already working in other parts of Hertfordshire – notably in providing sexual health services – as well as in eleven London boroughs, employing 3500 people on 500 sites.
Though the range of health and wellbeing services planned for the new Centre were included in the original proposals set out two years ago, a number of key changes relating to the use of the site emerged at the meeting. The most significant change is for the now dilapidated 120-year-old Red House itself to be retained and refurbished as part of the Health and Wellbeing Centre, rather than being sold for conversion into apartments to the developer of new housing on the site.
In addition to the main funding for the Centre, to be raised through the sale of ‘surplus' land on the site for housing, the NHS is due to contribute £300,000 towards the refurbishment of the Red House for ongoing medical services and the new Centre's office accommodation.
Following the formal presentations, the meeting was opened to the floor in a wide-ranging Q&A session. Not surprisingly, in view of the long ‘deafening silence' after the project's trumpeted unveiling in late 2017, the most pointed questions from the audience concerned the scheduled timetable, which will crucially involve the upgrade and extension of the existing Stewarts facility and the sale of a large part of the site for private housing.
Ian Daccus, CLCH's director of estates, said that from the October 2019 project start date it was likely to take 12 to 18 months to get through the local authority planning approval process. That indicated final completion in three to three-and-a-half years time, by early 2023 but, in Mr Baccus's words, ‘quicker if we can!