PLANS to build a £75m emergency hospital near Cramlington have been approved.
Northumberland County Council’s planning committee last week approved the application by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust despite concerns over an increase in traffic, accessibility to the site by public transport and pedestrian safety.
The police raised concerns about accessibility for ambulances, but the meeting heard that an independent transport assessment had concluded that any such problems could be addressed by road improvements.
Eight councillors voted to grant permission for the hospital, to be built just off the A189, with only one, Cramlington North’s Wayne Daley, voting against.
The decision must now be referred to the Civil Aviation Authority and the government in case it affects Newcastle Airport.
A late condition was added to ensure the development takes steps to prevent interference with the airport’s radar.
The airport withdrew its objection on grounds of potential radar interference but it remains opposed to the scheme for fear it could curtail possible future expansion of the airport.
Trust finance committee chairman Ian Swithenbank, also a county councillor for Cramlington East, spoke from the public gallery in favour of the scheme, pointing out that it was being funded without recourse to a private-finance initiative.
However, he did add that more thought should be given to traffic issues, saying: “There are very great concerns among people living near this.”
It is expected that 60,000 patients a year will be treated at the new hospital, with 40,000 of them arriving by ambulance.
It is estimated that there would be about ten arrivals and departures a month by helicopter.
Coun Daley said there were strict rules obliging ambulance crews to use sirens since a fatal accident in Newcastle a couple of years ago and this was already leading to complaints about noise day and night at West Hartford in Cramlington.
He said the hospital would be great for the people of Northumberland, but he could not support the application because of road problems and its impact on neighbours.
Senior planning officer Joe Nugent said it was expected that only three or four ambulances a day would be sounding their sirens.
Other councillors praised the trust and said the hospital would be an asset and noise concerns were exaggerated.
The 240-bed hospital will bring under one roof emergency care for patients from all over Northumberland and North Tyneside.
Work is expected to start early next year and take around two years to complete, providing employment for about 1,000 construction workers.
It will be the first hospital in England to have emergency care consultants on site round the clock.
Trust chief executive Jim Mackey, pictured, said: “We are delighted that councillors have supported the hospital and recognise that it will save lives and dramatically improve care for patients in Northumberland and North Tyneside.
“It is part of our £200m investment to bring world-class care to our communities and gives our populations access to some of the best healthcare in the country and internationally.
“The hospital will, in the main, treat the patients from Northumberland and North Tyneside who currently receive care at our existing hospitals and allow us to deliver emergency care more effectively on this new site.
“This is a major investment in the health of our local communities and provides much-needed jobs in the current economic climate.
“The councillors’ decision represents a major step forward for the hospital.
“However, we recognise that further work will be required before development can start.”
Objectors’ spokeswoman Margaret Povey claimed that distraught relatives rushing to the hospital along busy, narrow routes such as High Pit Road might cause accidents.
After the meeting, Mrs Povey said: “We are extremely disappointed.
“I don’t think the councillors have actually voted on planning issues. I think they have voted from a humanitarian point of view.
“They haven’t taken into account the effect it is going to have on the local residents – the extra traffic, the noise.”