Hospital campaigners’ plea to keep land in public ownership

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Campaigners fighting to keep Brighton General Hospital land in public ownership are calling for more people to get involved, writes Local Democracy Reporter Sarah Booker-Lewis.

About 100 people heard NHS campaigners, councillors and the two Brighton MPs at a public meeting speak about the using the site for low-cost social housing.

Plans to redevelop the former Victorian workhouse at the top of Elm Grove are under discussion.

A new community health hub is proposed for the current ambulance station site, with a GP surgery and pharmacy, along with existing services for mental health, podiatry and early parenting.

Health chiefs have said that the cost of the project could be funded by selling the rest of the site for housing.

When Brighton and Hove City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board was given a briefing in November last year, one suggestion was that the site be used to build homes for health workers.

A 38 Degrees petition, calling for meaningful public consultation about the future of the site, as well as asking for community beds and homes for social rent has more than 1,300 signatures.

Green councillor David Gibson said that the site was a public asset in a city with “horrendous” housing problems.

He said that the Greens and Labour councillors and activists from the Brighton Housing Coalition, Sussex Defend the NHS and the Save Whitehawk Hill group had come together to shift the agenda to social housing.

Councillor Gibson said: “Privitisation and inequality have gone together. This country has become one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.

“You get better outcomes if you narrow inequality. If you want to narrow inequality, you need public provision, public support and public services which are decent.”

He said that the council’s chief executive Geoff Raw would be meeting with the board of the Brighton General landowner, Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust, to discuss options.

The campaign is pushing for the site to be taken into council ownership.

Councillor Gibson said that one “creative solution” would be for the council to build the health hub in exchange for land for housing.

Ty Galvin, who chairs the Older People’s Forum, told the meeting that the site should be used for the people of Brighton and Hove, not for property speculation.

He has been campaigning for community and step-down beds on the site to reduce the strain of bed blockers who cannot leave hospital.

Mr Galvin said: “They should have 40 to 50 convalescing beds for people coming out of hospital who cannot go home. They will relieve hospital beds and convalesce until they can get home and get around the house.

“What happens now is they send sick people home from hospital with private health care at home and these patients are ending up back in hospital.”

Carolyn Pickering, of Sussex Defend the NHS, reminded the crowd that the NHS freed people from the fear of choosing which child to spend their savings on if one became ill.

She said: “This land should remain as a public resource not as luxury housing to make profits for private companies.

“The land is still part of the NHS. The NHS belongs to us and the land belongs to us so they should not be allowed to sell it.”

Newly elected Labour councillor Kate Knight, who chairs the council’s Neighbourhoods, Inclusion, Communities and Equalities Committee, said that her party would put all its energies to work together with the Greens to deliver social housing for the people.

She said: “I want the voice of the ordinary people and the ordinary people’s fears and concerns to be heard.

“I give my commitment we will listen to what people are saying.”

People at the meeting were urged to write  to members of the council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee and submit public questions.

The committee is due to meet on Wednesday 26 June.

Speakers also encouraged people to ask questions at Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) meetings.

Details of the CCG’s next meetings are listed on its website www.brightonandhoveccg.nhs.uk/get-involved/events.

Council leader Nancy Platts said: “We will be inviting all interested parties into meetings about the Brighton General site and this includes the Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust as well as those campaigning about the future use of the site.”

Sarah Booker-Lewis , Local Democracy Reporting Service