And just as spring has given way to summer and weeds and undergrowth are again helping to soften these two blots on the landscape, so NHS officials are continuing to trot out their lame old excuses:
The “process of establishing” what to do with the
abandoned nurses’ accommodation has “begun”
The “process of establishing” what to do with the abandoned nurses’ accommodation has “begun” and action will be taken to determine the “most appropriate option” for the future of the Marie Foster site.
Precisely the same kind of jargon was being used in February 2012 when Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers told a Barnet Society question-and-answer session of her contacts with NHS officials and how she had been assured that “a decision on the future of the Marie Foster building was imminent”.
When Ms Villiers was reminded of this earlier upbeat assessment at the Society’s Q&A in March 2013, she promised she would redouble her efforts as the constituency MP – and hopefully her heightened influence as a cabinet minister – to try to find out what was happening to what she admitted were now two “real eyesores” along one of Barnet’s principal thoroughfares.
But the one approach that the Society thought might have had some impact – her letter to her cabinet colleague Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health – gave little encouragement.
Although Mr Hunt welcomed Ms Villiers’ “involvement in monitoring” the action of the relevant NHS organisations, all he could offer was an official update which was as vague and inconclusive as all the previous statements issued by the Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust.
Mr Hunt said the Trust had begun “the process of establishing whether the site of nurse accommodation at Arkley should be retained or disposed of”. He expected that this process “will proceed swiftly and that the Trust will keep you informed of its progress”.
Ownership of the former Marie Foster centre was transferred to NHS Property Services in April 2013 following the abolition of the Barnet Primary Care Trust.
One of the objectives of the Property Services department was to dispose of buildings surplus to NHS requirements. Nevertheless, as Mr Hunt acknowledged, there were complications regarding the Marie Foster building:
“I understand from NHS Property Services that Barnet Primary Care Trust previously identified that there was a health need on the site, which means that at least part of the site is not surplus to requirement.”
Jeremy Hunt threw down the gauntlet in his letter to Ms Villiers
Therefore Property Services would have to work closely with the Barnet clinical commissioning group to “determine the most appropriate option for the future of the Marie Foster site and will take its lead from local commissioners to ensure that local NHS services are not disadvantaged”.
Mr Hunt’s convoluted explanation seemed to be at odds with what he stressed were the objectives of the government: unused NHS sites should be disposed of “as soon as is practical” in order to release funds back into front-line services; and the task of identifying and releasing surplus public-sector land to provide new homes and promote growth was a key initiative for improving the economy.
One reason for the years of delay and obfuscations over the future of both the former Marie Foster centre and the abandoned nurses’ home is that the decision-making process regarding surplus property and land seems to have ground to a halt during repeated NHS reorganisations.
Barnet is paying the price for official inaction: the Wood Street conservation area has been blighted for the last ten years by the empty Marie Foster building which has simply been left to rot; some of its roof tiles are missing and the outer walls daubed with graffiti.
Further west along the A411, on what after all is one of the main approaches to Barnet, stands the most scandalous example of a wasted public building, the derelict block of flats, opposite the Arkley public house, that once provided accommodation for nurses at Barnet General Hospital.
Ragged blinds blow from the smashed window frames; part of the roof has collapsed in on itself; outer walls are blackened by fire; and the graffiti is a shocking reminder of years of neglect by NHS administrators.
Jeremy Hunt threw down the gauntlet in his letter to Ms Villiers when he said he welcomed local involvement in monitoring the action of NHS organisations on behalf the communities they served: The Barnet Society has every intention of rising to the challenge!