St James Hospital: Portsmouth political row breaks out over £1 council bid for site

THE leader of Portsmouth City Council has been accused of 'political opportunism' after documents revealed the 2018 bid for St James' Hospital he championed was for just £1.

By Josh Wright
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 1:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th January 2022, 4:56 pm
St James Hospital Picture: Liam Nash Photography
St James Hospital Picture: Liam Nash Photography

But Lib Dem Gerald Vernon-Jackson has hit back and said the £1 deal would have led to to ‘more money for the NHS’.

Conservative opposition group leader Simon Bosher is angry and said the offer – which did include a profit share agreement – had only been submitted to win political support from the public.

‘For years [Gerald] Vernon-Jackson has been lauding his “serious” bid as a solution to protecting the St James’ Hospital site but as we can all now see it was for the princely sum of £1,’ he said. ‘His bid was nothing more than a complete sham and an electioneering stunt.

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‘Now we all know why he's been so determined to keep it a secret. Quite frankly he and his Liberal Democrat colleagues have misled the residents of Milton into believing that they would save the St James’ Hospital site when they clearly had no intention of doing so.

‘His behaviour has been nothing short of disgraceful.’

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But Cllr Vernon-Jackson said the NHS would have been better off financially had it gone with the council bid and instead accused the Conservative group of ‘misleading the public’.

Details of the bid show the council expected to make a £10.7m profit on its 170-home development. A presentation given by the council said the NHS would receive 50 per cent of profit ‘once a suitable developer’s profit had been achieved'.

Under the council plan, 30 per cent of the 170 homes would have been affordable while the £55m PJ Livesey scheme - a decision on which was deferred by the council planning committee last month - includes zero.

The bid letter submitted to the NHS said the the offer was a ‘strategic decision to invest within the city to enable and safeguard the delivery of quality housing and public ammenity (sic)’.

‘To say this was just a £1 bid is itself misleading,’ Cllr Vernon-Jackson said. ‘The NHS would have ended up with more money than the £3.5m they will get from PJ Livesey and we would also have progressed it much more quickly, saving it from maintenance costs.’

NHS Property Services said earlier this month that its continued ownership of the hospital was 'an unnecessary financial drain' which cost it £1.6m in 2021. The sale to PJ Livesey will not be completed until planning permission is awarded.

However, in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act for details of its response, landowner NHS Property Services (NHSPS) said the offer was below market value and the proposal unprofitable.

It said: ‘[The council’s] financial appraisal of the development showed a land value of -£7.6m without any profit built in.

‘As a body owned in its entirety by the government, NHSPS is obliged to adhere to our estate code and we are bound to dispose of sites at market value. Such a bid would not conform to this policy and potentially disadvantage reinvestment in the health system in the long term.’

It also criticised the council for ‘not providing any evidence’ of experience maintaining historic buildings ‘[nor] any track record of dealing with the heritage-led repurposing of a site like this’.

The sale of the site to PJ Livesey, which specialises in the redevelopment of historic sites, was instead favoured.

‘Our bid would have given more money to the NHS, protected more trees from being cut down, would have delivered more homes for local families,’ Cllr Vernon-Jackson added. ‘On every level it was a better offer.’