An independent report has concluded redeveloping Watford General Hospital is the only realistic way forward for a trust which has millions to spend on its facilities.

A review of four green belt sites for a new hospital in west Hertfordshire has found a hospital trust would face “complex" challenges during the planning process and struggle to meet a government redevelopment deadline of 2025.

West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust could have as much as £590 million to spend on improving its facilities.

Campaigners want to see a new hospital built on a site that is collectively accessible to Watford, Hemel Hempstead, and St Albans.

The trust has consistently stated that the construction of a new hospital would be “too expensive” and last year confirmed its preferred way forward is to spend the bulk of the funding on refurbishing and upgrading Watford General Hospital.

Nevertheless, the trust has not ruled out the option of building a new hospital but the findings of the site review will not make good reading for new hospital campaigners.

This is because it has been deemed “very unlikely” any hospital could be completed on a new site by 2025.

Watford Observer:

What is the site review and who has carried it out?

The hospital trust commissioned Royal Free London Property Services to undertake a site feasibility review of four greenfield sites, along with two additional options at or next to Watford General.

The independent report by RFL, Montagu Evans, and Currie & Brown will be used by the trust in its appraisal of different site options.

The primary purpose of this review is to independently assess and determine the programme to bring forward a health facility for the trust, taking into account potential hurdles such as land availability, timings, and costs.

Each site has been graded with regards to particular aspects of the scheme before a final colour of red, amber, or green is given. A green outcome essentially means most of the boxes have been ticked.

Where are the six sites that have been reviewed?

• Kings Langley - land east of A41 at j20 for the M25, WD4 8EE

• Leverstock Green - eastern side of Hemel Hempstead South/Gorhambury Estate, HP2 4UE

• Chiswell Green - land off j21A for the M25, AL2 3NX

• Park Street – former Radlett Airfield

• Watford General Hospital – Vicarage Road, Watford

• Watford Riverwell – land next to Watford General Hospital

The review’s findings

This section will provide an outline of the conclusions made regarding each of the six sites, giving relevant background information, and how realistic development would be on the particular site.

Kings Langley

This is a green belt site within Dacorum and owned by Hertfordshire County Council.

The report states that the site’s topography is “challenging” with a 46 metre drop across the whole site.

The site has previously been put forward by the council for a mixed-use development scheme and the county council would be able to make the site available for a hospital.

The report raises concerns about access and traffic flow, being by an already busy motorway. On the other side of the roundabout, a motorway service is proposed, in Three Rivers.

A new hospital on this site may not be complete until 2029.

Availability – 1/4 

Suitability 10/15

Deliverability – Amber

Overall - Red

Watford Observer:

The land in question is the fields near Wayside Farm

Leverstock Green

The green belt site is owned by the Crown Estate which is currently working toward an application across the whole site for a phased mixed-use development of commercial and residential uses.

One of the biggest issues is land, within St Albans District, would not be made available until 2026 – past the government’s deadline.

The report states wider infrastructure is required on the site and access would need to be created via a new roundabout, with further road improvements required.

The ground on the site is said to be ‘impermeable’ which requires significant works.

Crown Estate has also discovered archaeological remains which would delay delivery.

Availability – 1/4

Suitability – 8/15

Deliverability – Amber

Overall - Red

Watford Observer:

Land near where the A414 and M1 meet

Chiswell Green

Just off junction 21A for the M25, this is a site favoured by the Herts Valleys Hospital campaign group.

The green belt land is privately owned by Clowes Developments but the owners are keen to put the site forward for a hospital.

Previously, the land has been mooted as a new stadium site for St Albans City Football Club.

Watford Observer:

Herts Valleys Hospital drawing for a new hospital in Chiswell Green

The landowners already have their eyes on residential development but believe they can accommodate a hospital too.

The owners have also spoken with St Albans District Council about the idea of building a pharmaceutical or biotech employment space alongside the hospital.

There are high voltage electricity pylons that cut across the southern part of the northern parcel of land and the owners have engaged with UK Power Networks to ascertain whether these cables could be buried in the ground.

Access to the site would unlikely be a problem although the impact on traffic flow on the A405 is of a concern,

The proposed hospital on this site would require a significant amount of surface water attenuation.

Availability – 2/4

Suitability – 8/15

Deliverability – Amber

Overall - Red

Watford Observer:

Land would be available in fields near where the A405 and M25 meet

Park Street

This land will be familiar with many readers as it is the site that has been put forward as a rail freight interchange.

The Secretary of State granted developer Helioslough planning permission in 2014 for three million square foot of distribution space, but Helioslough has discharged all of the planning conditions associated with the planning permission and it has not had any recent engagement with landowners, Hertfordshire County Council.

The green belt land has also been put forward by the county council as a site for housing or a garden village.

Watford Observer:

Some of the land in question

Recently St Albans District Council, which has fought the rail freight interchange, confirmed in a letter to government local plan inspectors it was prepared to accept a freight depot be built.

But there is a third option – a hospital.

Although the council would likely be open to a hospital, timing would be a huge issue due to the existing permission for rail freight – and all of the consequential complications associated with that application.

Availability – 1/4

Suitability – 8/15

Deliverability – Red and Amber

Overall - Red

Watford Observer:

Former Radlett Aerodrome on land between Park Street and the A414 in Napbsury

Watford Riverwell

The overall site is part owned by the trust and part owned by Watford Borough Council.

Riverwell is a regeneration scheme comprising of 1,000 homes, a primary school, retirement village, community centre and more.

A £35 million multi-storey car park has also been approved as part of the scheme which will be built at the hospital to be completed by 2022.

It will come with 1,290 spaces and the car park on the site will eliminate the need to walk up and down the steep hill that visitors currently face.

The work on the car park will continue irrespective of decisions made about the future location of new hospital buildings because the trust says it “urgently” needs to improve its current parking facilities.

Watford Observer:

Current car park at Watford General

The part of Riverwell in question is available to the trust for use for an emergency care facility.

Infrastructure is in place although work would be needed to ensure plans can work with a primary school close by.

Availability – 3/4

Suitability – 13/15

Deliverability – No red or amber

Overall - Amber

Watford General Hospital

This is land owned by the trust and home to existing hospital buildings.

Therefore, there are no issues with land availability, however ground conditions are likely to require ground remediation due to historic use.

There is also a known presence of asbestos in the fabric of some of the buildings to be demolished, as well as in the ground where there will be ducting crossing the site which may be subject to ground investigation work.

The report states that a hospital redevelopment could be done on this site by 2025.

Availability – 4/4

Suitability – 13/15

Deliverability – No red or amber

Overall - Green

Watford Observer:

Watford Observer:

This CGI has been released in the past showing what a redeveloped Watford General Hospital could look like

Review conclusion

With regards to costs, construction works have been calculated, however there is too much uncertainty over costs of building new roads or junctions in particular, so final costing figures have not been generated.

The authors of the report say the report demonstrates that the greenfield options carry “far greater risk and complexity” compared to the Watford General Hospital site options.

What happens next?

The trust will consider the review and put together a shortlist of redevelopment options based on its findings – the shortlist is expected to be published in October.

It will then prepare its outline business case which will detail its final proposal and which option it has chosen.

This business case is expected to be submitted in Autumn 2021.

What have the trust said?

Duane Passman, the trust’s recently appointed acute redevelopment programme director, said: "Having been involved in many hospital builds over several decades, I know how important it is to start with the best possible options. This study provides an impartial basis for our next stage and I am grateful to those involved for their thorough approach.

"I know that people feel strongly about the issue of where the new hospital buildings will be located. We will need to look at the evidence because we have a once in a generation opportunity to transform our hospital buildings and provide our communities with great facilities.

"Thankfully, we are developing more ways for patients to access care without coming to an emergency hospital site and so location will be less of an issue as we move more and more services online or into local settings.

"Whilst we can’t please everyone, we can absolutely give our assurance that we will base our decisions on good evidence and will press on so that we can bring about real and lasting benefits for our patients. We continue to work towards having new buildings open in 2025 or as soon as possible after that date."

The full report can be read here.