York Press column: Plans for Bootham Park Hospital site must benefit the people of York
August 10, 2018
Last month, I met Health Minister Stephen Barclay in Westminster to discuss the future of the Bootham Park Hospital site in the centre of York, alongside York Central MP Rachael Maskell.
City of York Council has been calling for NHS Property Services to halt its current plans to sell the site and reinvest the proceeds in the health service, and instead allow the local NHS and Council to devise plans for the future of Bootham that provide the greatest possible benefits for residents of York.
Bootham Park was a mental health hospital until it was closed in 2015 on the grounds the building’s design meant it was not suitable for use as a modern mental health facility, and has been declared surplus to clinical requirements by our local NHS.
The Grade 1-listed former hospital is major local asset, occupying a large site of over 17 acres in the centre of the city close to York Hospital. The main building dates from 1777 and was designed in the attractive Palladian style. It was the fifth public asylum to be set up in the whole of England, and crucially was built on the initiative of the people of York themselves. Construction was financed by public donations not only from the great and the good of the day, but also from ordinary residents, chipping in to improve the health provision and infrastructure of the burgeoning city. Bootham therefore only exists because of the efforts of the people of York, and this should be reflected in the disposal process for the site.
Given its size and location, the disposal of this site therefore represents an unparalleled opportunity to redevelop this area of central York for the benefit of the community.
The Council’s proposals suggest using the site as the location for a range of local health services, including urgent care, GP services, older care and rehabilitation. Bootham could also be developed to provide new housing for older people and key workers, as well as a new public park, and to assist with wider housing and commercial development in the area. The site could also be used to improve access to York Hospital for patients and staff by foot, public transport and bicycle. The Council estimate these proposals could create at least 180 jobs locally.
Early in July, the Leader of City of York Council Ian Gillies contacted me to say that NHS Property Services were not really engaging with the Council’s vision for Bootham, and were pressing ahead with the marketing process.
I wrote immediately to the Chief Executive of NHS Property Services and Ministers at the Department of Health to express these concerns directly. I also raised this issue in a parliamentary debate on the management of NHS property. I did this to ensure that the Health Minister Stephen Barclay responding to the debate heard about the issue, which led to Stephen Barclay arranging the meeting last month.
I am very clear that the release of this site offers very significant opportunities for our city. I completely understand the concerns expressed locally that Bootham may simply be sold off by a remote agency for money that York may never see. I do not want to see a situation in which the local authority and local community are disempowered regarding this once-in-a-lifetime decision on an integral part of the physical fabric of our city.
Since the meeting with Stephen Barclay, I have heard again from Ministers at the Department of Health, confirming they will have to make a decision on whether to proceed with the sale process or allow a pause, during which the Council and our local NHS can develop their plans for the site. The Department says it is now essentially a value-for-money decision over whether the financial cost to the NHS of postponing the sale is worth the potential benefits of allowing the Council more time. I have been informed that departmental officials have been directed to analyse the situation and make a value-for-money assessment, which will occur in consultation with local bodies in York.
I would like to assure residents that I will continue my work to support City of York Council and our local NHS on this. I am determined to ensure that the needs and interests of local people are properly considered in decision-making on this landmark York institution.