What is a health campus? That question is more perplexing than it may initially seem.
For a decade the term has been a catch-all for a variety of plans to redevelop Watford General Hospital and the land behind Vicarage Road.
Even after the release of the project’s latest masterplan this week, accompanying PR fanfare, what it exactly promises remains vexingly unclear.
When the term was initially coined more than ten years ago, it was part of successful efforts to convince the cash-strapped health trust to retain emergency services at Watford General Hospital with the promise of a wider development of the area.
Fast forward to 2007 and the redevelopment had morphed into the promise of a brand new 600-bed hospital, funded by a private finance initiative, with 500 new homes.
Then the country lapsed into recession and the PFI scheme, which needed considerable backing from the private sector, hit the wall. Since then another plan has been devised under the health campus banner. Controversially, this latest scheme involves using the site’s previously protected Farm Terrace allotment land.
The decision, which politicians claimed was necessary to make the project “viable”, has provoked an acrimonious legal dispute between the council, the Government and plot-holders.
It also involves more houses than originally proposed, the latest figure is 700. So the campus part of the scheme is looking decidedly more crowded than the ‘open plan’ the word suggests.
Also, talk of a new 600-bed hospital has devolved to the vague promise of new “health facilities”.
When the health campus partners announced the unveiling of the new masterplan this week, it was not unreasonable for people to expect it to furnish this currently vague plan with some more detail.
The graphic did tell us there will be a new school, a mini park, a riverside walk, a community green and a “central square” in the redevelopment.
But all that was offered on the health aspect were a number of buildings labelled “possible future hospital development zone”.
The council has also now said the masterplan is only “indicative” and could change as the project progresses. The reason details about the hospital side are so sketchy was because the clinical strategy West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust is developing will not be finalised until next month at the earliest.
Without such crucial detail all the PR hoopla over the masterplan this week seems premature and bizarrely timed.
The primary purpose of the health campus has always been to build a new hospital in Watford and all other development was a side issue. Instead what people in Watford have at the moment is an ever-expanding amount of development – 500 homes, then 600 and now 700 – and still no idea what the health element of the deal entails.
On top of this, the hospital trust has still not obtained the foundation status necessary to give it the financial independence to take part in a regeneration scheme.
Huge questions about how any new hospital will be funded remain. And until these fundamental blanks are filled in there is no definitive answer to that decade-old question: What is a health campus?