Royal Berkshire Hospital reveals shock sell-off plan
Published: 24 Sep 2013 14:300 comments
The stunning revelation, guaranteed to anger Royal Berks staff, Reading’s civic and environmental groups and councillors, comes after the Midweek discovered the hospital is locked in talks with Government officials over plans to convert the landmark London Road building into a new free school, to be sponsored by Maiden Erlegh School.
The enormous Grade II*-listed Victorian edifice with its classic columns and front steps opened in 1839 and is a treasured part of Reading’s history but Royal Berks chief executive Ed Donald says it is “not suitable for 21st century clinical use” and it is understood a multi-million pound bill is looming to repair large sections of the dilapidated roof.
Mr Donald told the Midweek: “The Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust is currently discussing its plans for the next five years with a number of community groups, CCGs, Healthwatch, Health and Well Being Boards, our staff and other partners.
“As part of that planning and like all public sector organisations, we need to consider how we use the Royal Berkshire Hospital estate to best meet the needs of the patients and the communities we serve.
“This includes the future use of the old north block in London Road which is not suitable for 21st century clinical use and will need considerable investment in repairs and refurbishment.
“As part of this review we commissioned a number of feasibility studies into possible future uses for this part of our site. One of these options was the feasibility of it being used for educational purposes. We now need to consider the results of this study – as well as a range of other options.”
He added: “The London Road building is iconic and historic and much loved by the people of Reading , across Berkshire and by our own staff and we would welcome hearing the ideas of the community about its future.”
The historic building houses the hospital’s 19th century chapel and a museum, as well as two wards used for chemotherapy treatment, two dialysis wards, the switchboard department and offices. Selling off the site would lead to the loss of 115 much needed parking spaces at the front of the hospital as well as a small number of disabled spaces to the rear of the building.
Reading East MP Rob Wilson, who is backing Maiden Erlegh’s bid to expand its empire, said: “Any decision on where a new free school will go is a matter for the Education Funding Agency, Maiden Erlegh School and the DfE. However, it is important there are a series of options that make sense for local parents and residents.
“A new school should be easy to access, have great educational facilities, not create huge traffic problems for local people and offer taxpayer value for money.
“The RBH is considering all its options because the maintenance costs of these buildings is taking money away from frontline patient care at a time when every penny is needed. I think that is a very responsible approach to take in focusing more resources into staffing, better equipment and high quality care.”
A Department for Education spokesman confirmed the Education Funding Agency is in talks with the hospital, although “nothing has been decided”.