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Old RAH site gets caught up in politics

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All the work done as part of the design competition for the old Royal Adelaide Hospital is at risk of being forgotten as the site becomes a political football, the Australian Institute of Architects fears.

The future of the site after the hospital closes in 2016 has become a major point of difference between the parties.

Labor is promising a mixed use site based around a new high school, while the Liberals say they’ll explore leasing the site to private healthcare providers.

The architects want the future of the site to be determined by a “transparent process” overseen by design professionals.

The State Government conducted an international design competition last year with architects from all around the world submitting their visions for the large site. A jury of eminent architects selected a mixed-use design centred around an art gallery as its pick, with the winning firm currently engaged by the Government to do a more detailed design.

“The RAH design ideas competition was an intelligent investment by the government that allowed a design process to unlock the site’s potential, rather than the usual short-term, announce and defend politics,” Richard Hosking, the State Manager of the Australian  Institute of Architects, told InDaily this morning.

“Have either party harnessed this investment or are we again seeing a major Adelaide asset becoming a political football?

“Elections always pose the risk that significant procurement and infrastructure decisions become over-politicised by the major parties and public commitments are made prematurely without adequate investigation and consultation.

“The importance of this site demands that a transparent process led by design professionals must determine the outcome. Let’s take the time to get this right and not focus on getting votes.”

The Liberals announced their plan for the site in the weekend newspapers. The party would lease the site to private healthcare providers who would likely continue the use of many of the buildings several of which, including the cancer centre, are reasonably new. 

Leading private hospital operator the Calvary Group has already expressed interest in developing a 300-bed facility on the site. The group says the intensive care unit, emergency department and operating theatres are all in good condition and could continue to be used to provide services.

The Liberals believe their plan could eventually generate revenue for the Government, and would encourage the development of medical industries in South Australia – including medical tourism.

Premier Jay Weatherill and his party are committed to building a new public high school on the site as part of a mixed use development. The school would have a science and healthcare focus and would add public schooling capacity in the city and inner suburbs – an issue both parties agree needs to be addressed.

Some observers from the design industry are wondering why both options can’t co-exist on the spacious site.

Meanwhile the state’s surgeons are still concerned about a lack of detail on how the new Royal Adelaide Hospital will cater for the public’s surgery needs – and its potential impact on the health budget.

The chairman of the state committee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Peter Subramaniam, said the Liberals’ plan for the old RAH site was a good one – as long as it was cost neutral.

“It has long been our concern that the new RAH will not be able to provide the space or the range of facilities to cope with the anticipated needs of the population,” he said.

“The college has previously been on the record as saying that some of the elements of the current site may need to be retained to cater for the possibility of the overall short-fall of beds at the new RAH.

“An exploration of this concept – especially if cost neutral to the tax-payer – is a step in the right direction.

“Meetings with the government have been long on reassurances etc but worryingly short on actual detail about the new RAH. This should be of concern to the public given the anticipated timeframe to the transfer to the  new RAH in just over two years.

“It may well be that the cost of the nRAH and the operating costs of the new hospital will have an impact on the range of health services that can be afforded to the SA public and this may be an uncomfortable truth for both sides of politics.”

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