“Vast, empty site”: Disappointment over scrapped Arden hospital plans

“Vast, empty site”: Disappointment over scrapped Arden hospital plans
Brendan Rees

Community members and a City of Melbourne councillor have expressed disappointment over the state government’s decision to abandon plans for a new hospital in North Melbourne’s Arden precinct, saying it was a missed opportunity.

In what was billed as “the biggest hospital project in Australia’s history”, the proposed $5-$6 billion project was promised as part of a pre-election commitment in 2022, which would have seen the construction of a campus site for the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Royal Women’s Hospital.

However, the government’s May 2024-45 budget revealed that after a technical investigation, the “work required to mitigate electromagnetic interference for the hospital’s sensitive medical instruments would be significant,” because of the nearby Metro Tunnel, resulting in “significant delays and costing significantly more”.

“This approach also enables us to make the most out of both sites: consolidating medical care and services in Parkville and freeing up Arden for more homes for thousands of Victorians,” the government said.

The Arden campuses were proposed to be “centres for elective surgery, outpatient treatment, clinical trials, rehabilitation and low-risk women’s healthcare services, while the redeveloped Parkville sites will focus on emergency, trauma and acute care”.

Speaking to the media, Treasurer Tim Pallas said the electromagnetic interference was a “very substantial problem and probably in our estimation could not be overcome in any financially responsible way, and may well have compromised patient care”.

But the outcome has drawn criticism from the community including City of Melbourne councillor Rohan Leppert who said “to say this is disappointing is an understatement”.

“The Arden vision called for an internationally competitive employment hub, and now it has no anchor institution,” he told North West City News.

“It also called for abundant affordable housing, yet not a single affordable home has been planned. When Arden Station opens it will sit in the middle of a vast empty site: a potent symbol of missed opportunity,” Cr Leppert said.

 

The precinct still has the potential for success; the transport connections alone will make sure of that. But we need those anchor tenants, and so the strategy to attract them, and stage land release, now needs to be planned openly.

 

In a statement, The Royal Women’s and Royal Melbourne Hospitals welcomed the budget announcement.

“We believe this is the right decision for both hospitals and are very supportive of the change for several reasons, including reduced travel for patients/families and clinicians between sites, and improved operating costs and efficiency by operating on one site,” it said.

“Our focus now shifts to the further expansion of our Parkville hospitals ensuring we can continue to be there for our community when it matters most, now and into the future.”

But other community members who were critical of the announcement included the North and West Melbourne Association’s secretary and former Lord Mayor Kevin Chamberlin who said the government’s decision was a “real disappointment”.

“Along with the Arden underground railway station the science and research facilities were the only key parts of the Arden precinct proposal that had any credibility,” he said.

“Opportunities for development in this area should still be considered that provide meaningful employment for the local people in the inner area. This is an ideal location to meet the desperate need for more educational facilities and open space.”

Mr Chamberlin added there was a “real opportunity” to address the need to provide social, affordable, public and housing, especially for larger families, noting the government “should not make the same mistakes made at Docklands by previous governments where the land was just sold off”.

“The community would be very keen to work with the government and the council to achieve a good outcome for social, affordable and public housing on this very important and strategic land,” he said.

“It’s a chance to salvage something good and sustainable out of what’s left in the Arden precinct project.” 

Leader of the Victorian Greens and State Melbourne MP Ellen Sandell said, “Now that Labor has scrapped plans for new Royal Women’s and Royal Melbourne Hospitals at Arden, the whole Arden plan seems like a schemozzle”.

 

 

 “Now there’s no mandated public housing, no hospitals, and no high school at Arden, what will actually be built there? I’m worried Labor is setting Arden up to be another property developers’ free-for-all, just like the Docklands was.”

Victoria’s Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozer lashed the government for being “disingenuous” after knowing the issues around electromagnetic interference years ago.

“Why didn’t they do their proper due diligence on the Arden site with the understanding those issues had been raised years before in 2018 when Peter Mac and the Royal Melbourne were being impacted by that part of the Metro Tunnel?” she said.

“It was a big glossy announcement for the 2022 election. It was designed to do what it did: capture people’s attention and get their vote without being truthful to Victorians and pulling the wool over their eyes.”

The government was contacted for comment. •

The Bridal Lament opens at Arts House

The Bridal Lament opens at Arts House

May 15th, 2024 - Georgie Atkins
Like us on Facebook