A high court judge has dismissed claims that a health body was unlawful in its decision-making process around the redevelopment of hospital buildings in west Hertfordshire.

In 2019, a hospital campaign group submitted a judicial review claim against Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

The New Hospital Campaign Group (NHC), which is fighting for a new hospital to be built on a site central to Watford, St Albans, and Hemel Hempstead, had questioned whether the option of a new purpose-built hospital was fully and fairly considered in early stages of the redevelopment consultation process.

Read more: West Hertfordshire hospital redevelopment decisions to be scrutinised by judge

But following a high court hearing in October, a judge concluded the CCG's decisions to agree a shortlist of sites, and then the preferred option, were lawful, and they dismissed the NHC's claim.

The CCG says the judge's ruling states it did "fulfill its legal duty to involve the public" and a "formal consultation was not required".

Therefore, the CCG says it "acted perfectly legally in the decisions it took".

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Despite the judge's ruling, the NHC, which crowdfunded £20,000 for the review, say they "will continue the battle" to secure a new hospital in west Hertfordshire.

A NHC spokesperson said: "Of course we are surprised and disappointed by the judge’s decision but it’s vital to understand this was not about whether it is better to keep patching up the current Vicarage Road site in Watford or to go for a central, clear site for a new hospital fit for the coming decades.

"It was purely about the process used to reach two decisions that were made a year-and-a-half- ago."

Hemel Hempstead Conservative MP Sir Mike Penning also expressed his "disappointment" in the judge's ruling, but added "this is not the end of the road" and it is "blatantly obvious" a new hospital on a new site is the "right solution" for the whole of west Hertfordshire.

Watford's Lib Dem mayor Peter Taylor and the town's Labour councillor Asif Khan have both welcomed the judge's ruling. 

Mr Taylor said: We have taken tough decisions over many years to give the hospital space it needs for bigger and better facilities. It is now time to get on with investing in improving facilities for everyone who visits or works at Watford General."

Cllr Asif Khan added: "We are looking forward to the prospect of a world class hospital being built after such a long time, with state of the art facilities that will support both patients, families and our excellent NHS staff."

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West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Watford General and St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead hospitals, is in line to receive hundreds of millions of pounds in government funding to redevelop its facilities.

At the beginning of October, both boards of the trust and CCG agreed to invest the bulk of the funding into redeveloping Watford General and dismissed calls to build a hospital on a new site.

The plans at Watford include creating a new hospital building that will replace nearly all the clinical facilities on the site at present. There are plans to provide a new urgent treatment and diagnostics centre at Hemel, while there are plans to create a rapid access cancer diagnostic centre at St Albans.

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The NHC does not think redevelopment of Watford General can be completed by a deadline set by the government of 2025.

The NHC recently commissioned an independent report from a specialist construction specialist. The group says Mike Naxton's report "shows clearly" building on a fresh central site would be "far quicker" than making the improvements the trust has in mind at the "cramped" Vicarage Road site.

The NHC say Mr Naxton’s report concludes an emergency care hospital on a new site "could be built up to three years quicker" than redeveloping Watford.

An NHC spokesperson added: "There has not been a full public consultation about hospital redevelopment in our area since 2007. We need one now, and it must include new site options.

"A substantial majority of the respondents to the trust’s online survey last September disagreed with the proposed shortlist."

The hospital trust says it has a "once in a generation opportunity to transform its hospital buildings" and says its decisions have been based on "independent expert opinion", which includes a site feasibility study.

A trust spokesperson added: “Whilst we acknowledge that some people want to see a new hospital on a new site, we are driven by the need to make major improvements within the next five years.

"Now that we have a preferred way forward, our time and energies are focused on making this a reality."

Read more: Hospital trust's review of sites published 

Read more: Hospital trust's survey criticised by campaigners