By Ella Lloyd | Contributor
Residents of Cardiff are torn over plans to build a new cancer hospital in Whitchurch. Velindre Cancer Centre is one of the largest cancer centres in the UK and provides specialist cancer treatment to 1.5 million people. However, whilst based in a 60 year old building, it is beginning to struggle with growing patient numbers. Plans were approved in 2017 to build a new £180 million facility on Whitchurch’s Northern Meadows.
These plans have caused concern for a number of residents over loss of green space, following the Welsh Government’s recent climate change promises. Residents say development would create air pollution alongside the loss of green space. A group called Save the Northern Meadows are campaigning for a change of site for the new hospital, with a petition gaining over 5000 signatures. However, a counter group has been formed supporting the new build, with a counter petition gaining 7500 signatures in just 5 days, and a 16,000 strong Facebook presence.
Save the Northern Meadows are being supported by Neil McEvoy, Member of the Senedd for South Wales Central, and local Labour MP Anna McMorrin has been involved in talks with Velindre Trust. In a letter to ministers, McEvoy expressed “horror that an area of such outstanding natural beauty will be built upon”, and described the Northern Meadows as an “oasis for wildlife in an urban setting”.
Members of the Save the Northern Meadows Facebook group were keen to clarify that they support a new cancer centre, but oppose building on the Northern Meadows. Members expressed concerns about loss of biodiversity and mature trees, as well as the pollution caused by building the facility. Debra Cooper, Green Party Senedd candidate for the South Wales Central list, expressed how the meadows had provided a positive space for residents during lockdown, particularly those living in flats behind the meadows where there are no private gardens. She also said that as these plans were approved in 2017, the Welsh Government should re-evaluate in light of the recent climate emergency declaration.
Supporters of the new build deny that there would be a negative environmental impact. Natasha Hamilton Ash, organiser of the Supporters of the new Velindre Cancer Centre Facebook group said that the Northern Meadows are “private land and anyone walking on it is actually trespassing”. She added that the facility is planned to be “the greenest hospital in Britain with only 40% of the meadow being built upon. The other 60% will be for all to enjoy with beautifully maintained gardens and walks”.
Cooper refuted these claims, stating that as the land is owned by the NHS, a public entity, the land is publicly owned. She also argued that the £27 million used to build access to the new facility could be better spent on equipment and beds for the hospital if it were built elsewhere. There are also concerns as the Northern Meadows is near Ty Coryton, a specialist residential home and school for autistic children. The noise caused by development may cause issues for those vulnerable individuals.
Save the Northern Meadows campaigners are equally concerned that the stand-alone model of the facility is unsuitable for cancer care, and an integrated model with University Hospital Wales (UHW) would be preferable. One resident argued that “it’s not fair or safe to transport very sick patients from Velindre to UHW in an ambulance”. Cancer patients are also at increased risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wayne Griffiths, an Ambassador for Velindre said ‘we are not in a position to accept the argument that this centre could be a “bolt on’ to UHW” as ‘”that site has recently been rendered as unfit for purpose” and thus this would be a “wasted investment”. He also echoed Hamilton Ash’s statement that this facility will be the “greenest” and most environmentally friendly hospital in Wales.
The issue is due to be debated in the Senedd on September 15.