WE HAVE won a vital battle – but the war goes on.
That was the message from campaigners and residents of Emsworth last night as NHS figures announced a U-turn on the sale listing of the town’s Victoria Cottage Hospital.
The site has been unused for more than four years and was put on the market by NHS Property Services (NHSPS) last month – after being deemed ‘surplus to requirements' by the South Eastern Hampshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
However, it was announced at the first Emsworth United campaign meeting, at Emsworth Baptist Church, that the CCG has written to NHSPS to say that indication no longer stands and the site ‘must be retained’.
Town doctors are now reconsidering the hospital as a potential location for the new Emsworth Surgery alongside Redlands Grange, north of the railway line.
One of more than 400 estimated residents at the meeting last night, Mike Wood was ‘very, very happy’ with the decision.
He said: ‘It’s morally wrong that something which was originally built with community-raised money, then gifted to the NHS, should be sold on for a profit before being handed back for local medical use.
‘The astounding turnout of this meeting shows the wealth of opinion that lies behind this subject.’
Jacky deLaporte, who has lived in Emsworth for 31 years, was equally pleased.
She said: ‘I am delighted that it is no longer surplus torequirements.
‘Thismeans we can have our healthcare as we want it, and not some developer making a profit out of something that has always been a hereditary part of Emsworth.’
In a string of deputations made by community groups throughout the evening, the CCG's director of development, Sara Tiller, said she was ‘very sorry’ about the panic caused by the hospital sale listing – which took place without any local consultation.
However, she announced the decision to reverse the sale process was not without cost – with NHSPS now set to charge the CCG £115,000-a-year as long as the hospital remains unused.
She said as part of a statement: ‘There are a number of options that need to be considered with nothing being ruled in or out at this stage. These include developing the existing practice building, developing the hospital site and designing a new build at Redlands Grange.
‘The practice, community and CCG need to work together to look at all of the options and we will be as transparent in the process as we can be.’
The meeting also marked the official launch of the Emsworth Community Land Trust (CLT).
Five months in the making, the body is one of 225 CLTs set up across the country, aimed at developing and stewarding affordable housing and other projects on behalf of a community.
Its chairwoman Dwynwen Stepien has played a central role in the Emsworth United campaign and hailed progress aired at last night as ‘really exciting’.
She added: ‘It’s such a relief local people are being given the choice to develop a future-proof health service in Emsworth.
‘The only worry now is affordability – and how we can get the money to put together a fantastic facility on that hospital site.’