Royal Free boss tells meeting trust is unaware of level of local opposition to Queen Mary's House proposals
PUBLISHED: 19:13 04 December 2018 | UPDATED: 10:57 05 December 2018
A top Royal Free boss said the trust had "no idea" about the strength of feeling regarding the proposed sell-off of Queen Mary's House, after a meeting yesterday.
Caroline Clarke, the trust’s deputy chief executive, made the admission at a meeting of stakeholders and local residents this morning.
Andrew Panniker, the capital and estates director was also present, along with other bosses.
The meeting took place with what was for the public five days’ notice, after weeks of pressure from Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq, as well as neighbourhood groups including the Heath and Hampstead Society and Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum.
According to those who were present, Royal Free bosses said they had not committed to any options regarding the key worker housing, and are set to take a final decision in the spring.
The meeting, chaired by MP Ms Siddiq and Cllr Alison Kelly – who also chairs Camden Council’s health scrutiny committee – heard that one of the options is to demolish the historic home, which currently houses Royal Free staff and teachers. It could then be developed into luxury flats.
Ms Clarke is believed to have said that the trust is looking for “maximum value” from any decision made. She assured those present that the money made from any deal would be reinvested in the trust’s capital budget rather than going on day-to-day spending.
However, when the trust’s representatives were pushed by those at the meeting on what the alternatives were, they wouldn’t due to “commercial confidentiality”.
The Ham&High understands that, when asked by Cllr Kelly, the Royal Free refused to give any further details. Groups present have since requested details of the other options.
Queen Mary’s House, in Heath Street, was used by the Royal Free as a rehabilitation wing until 2011, and also provides key worker housing for 50 people.
A pre-application report sent to Camden Council in October last year raised a proposal to flatten the site and to build 150 homes, most of which would be for private sale.
A feasibility study produced for the hospital in July 2017 shows how the proposed new build would be taller than the existing property, and may not be car-free, a stipulation of Camden’s local plan.
This is not the first key worker house sold off in the last 15 years by the trust. In 2004, the Royal Free flogged the Grade II-listed New End Nurses Home to be built into luxury flats, despite hundreds of objections.
The home, built in the 1930s, has since been demolished and work is ongoing to build the homes.
Speaking after Tuesday’s meeting, Heath and Hampstead Society planning sub-committee chair David Castle said: “There is a worry that we will just find out when a decision has been made.
“They can flog off their estate to make money for the trust, but there is also the duty to give housing for nurses and they admit it’s a real problem. They have a social responsibility.”
Once a decision is made, it will be put before the NHS Improvements Board and the Treasury, who have to “dispose” of the site, allowing a sale and development to take place.
Initially the society had been promised a public meeting by Royal Free CEO David Sloman.
However, when contacted by the Ham&High last week, the trust flip-flopped on whether the public would be invited.
Under pressure from this newspaper, the trust agreed that local residents would be able to attend. However the Ham&High was explicitly told it was not welcome.
Sources at the meeting also said the Royal Free believed it didn’t have to consult over the decision. And Hampstead Town councillor and leader of the Conservative group on Camden Council Cllr Oliver Cooper described even its current attempts at public engagement as a “sham”.
“They could have started this process eight months ago,” he told us afterwards. “They said they had engaged with key stakeholders in February, but we have seen no evidence of that taking place.
“This is the first meeting, and it’s 90 per cent of the way in.”
All groups at the meeting that this newspaper spoke to urged the Royal Free to hold a “proper” public meeting so they could hear residents’ views on the proposals.