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Health centre plan in chaos

THE army will pull out of plans for Aldershot’s Centre for Health if talks break down this week, leaving a huge gap in military health care.

Health officials from the Blackwater Valley and Hart Primary Health Care Trust (PCT) and landowner Wilky are due to meet on Friday in a last attempt to reach an agreement over rent for the new building.

If talks fall through, the centre could still be built on a site off Wellington Avenue. But without the involvement of the military it will be significantly scaled down.

Army medics are hoping to be an integral part of the new centre. They plan to share resources and facilities with the PCT.

It would give patients from civilian and military families the best of both worlds.

But the Mail has learned that the army will not be involved in plans to build the centre anywhere other than on the Hospital Hill site.

This would leave a huge gap in the army’s medical services in the town and remove any chance of civilians having access to military medical facilities.

Plans are in place to start building the new centre once the disagreement over rent is resolved.

The PCT claims that Wilky is proposing to charge too much rent and negotiations have broken down.

But if it has to go on a new site, it could put the project back years. A new partner will have to be found to build the centre, and the process of drawing up plans and getting them through the develop-ment phase will have to begin again.

Officials at the PCT are anxious to let Wilky know that it has alternative plans if the landowners do not reduce their rent demand. Those alternatives do not include army medics.

Senior army officers in Aldershot are hoping Wilky and the PCT resolve their differences on Friday, since they have no contingency plans if the Hospital Hill project collapses.

The entire garrison is undergoing a huge trans-formation over the next few years, as the buildings and facilities for soldiers and their families are brought up to 21st century standards under Project Connaught. Good medical facilities are an integral part of the plans.

Defence secretary Geoff Hoon was in Aldershot on Thursday to open the new Mons Barracks.

In an exclusive interview with the Mail, he refused to be drawn on what the army would do if the Hospital Hill project fell through.

He said: “It’s not my job to get involved in that level of detail about this particular project.

“It is my job to provide proper healthcare facilities for members of the armed forces and this project strikes me as being both exciting, innovative but also consistent with the kinds of approach that we’ve taken elsewhere.

“Certainly I will be discussing with Alan Milburn (Secretary of State for Health) the importance of this project as far as the Ministry of Defence is concerned and making that point to him quite vigorously, while making sure I’m not interfering with the local arrangements that will have to be decided by the partners in the project.”

Rushmoor Borough Council chief executive Andrew Lloyd said he had joined the leader of the council, Cllr John Marsh and leader of the Labour group Cllr Andy Straker in talking to the Defence Secretary about the project.

He said: “It’s because of the benefits of the joint facility with the military that we feel so strongly that the best performing option is the site on Hospital Hill and that is why we are throwing our weight behind these negotiations, in the hope that they succeed. If they should fail then obviously we lose the opportunity for a joint facility but we will then do our best to get a civilian facility.”

Reacting to Mr Hoons’ comments, he added: “Quite frankly, we were heartened by the Defence Secretary’s interest because it demonstrated a real desire for the military and the NHS to work together and we hope his intervention will strengthen the negotiations.

“What I’m conscious of is that the garrison is considering all of their options and they have put all their efforts into making sure these negotiations are successful, but if it does fail it seems to me they will soon come up with a fall back option as part of Project Connaught. But what we’re hoping, quite frankly, is that it won’t fail.”


Charlotte Neal
Chief Reporter (Aldershot)
Joshua Smith
Farnborough Reporter
Jon Couch
Sport Editor
Stephen Lloyd
Fleet & Yateley Reporter
Ros Collins
Junior News & Mail
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