Discussions about buillding a new hospital on the outskirts of Whitby have taken place between health bosses and the same developer which controversially wanted to bring a Tesco and affordable housing development to the town.
York-based S Harrison Developments Ltd confirmed to the Whitby Gazette this week it had renewed its interest in developing land near Sneaton Castle to help safeguard future hospital provision in the town.
The Gazette understands that should any development go ahead, it “would be helped by a community aspect” – likely to be housing and an extra care development at the current hospital site.
In 2010, S Harrison dropped a £40m bid to build a supermarket, petrol station and 93 affordable homes after councillors rejected the plans.
David Clancy, director of S Harrison Developments Ltd, said: “We’ve had preliminary discussions with the health trust to explore options but nothing has been agreed yet. It is early days.
“What we know is that Whitby needs its own modern, sustainable and appropriate hospital facilities and we would be delighted to play a part in delivering them.”
Mike Proctor, deputy chief executive of the York Foundation Trust which now manages Whitby Hospital, said the hospital has had well documented problems about not being fit for purpose as well as issues surrounding low staff morale.
A feasibility study is now being carried out into what services Whitby Hospital currently provides and what services ought to be offered in a new-build.
He agreed a new working environment would be better but conceded there were still many financial barriers before plans could be progressed.
The York Trust does not have any finances to put into the project as the only capital asset is the hospital building itself and the hospital is also losing around £640,000 per year as the books don’t balance.
One cost-cutting measure being put forward is closing one of the two wards at Whitby Hospital and making a single 28 bed ward – losing seven beds.
It would save £500,000 a year and the length of stays at the hospital are currently being reduced from an average of 20 days to 15.
At a meeting on Tuesday night, Mr Proctor said: “There is all sorts of speculation and options that people are working on, there is nothing certain at the moment.
“We can’t go on with a balance sheet that does not balance. My board of directors will expect me to put that right and we can do that next week if we combine these two wards into a single ward. There are seven empty beds at Whitby at the moment and we struggle to fill them all year round.
“I am diagnostic about it but if we can find a way of putting a new build in place it makes sense to do that. We would have to put it up before we close the old one, we are absolutely aware of that. The issue of not having a hospital in Whitby fills me with dread and we want to be part of delivering a hospital in Whitby whatever the site or the building.”
But the idea of Harrison’s involvement has led to anger among local residents and councillors who remember the supermarket battle from 2010 which was eventually won by Sainsbury’s.
Coun Jane Kenyon warned the community “would not stand another episode like that” and accused Harrison’s of playing on people’s emotions.
After the meeting she said: “What Whitby people want is to have their hospital developed to meet both the clinical and community health needs. They do not need to have their emotions and fear of losing health services manipulated.”