Cromer hospital revamp's new hitch

A long-running campaign to build a new Cromer hospital has hit yet another delay - after an 11th hour bid to preserve the history of the current building.

A long-running campaign to build a new Cromer hospital has hit yet another delay - after an 11th hour bid to preserve the history of the current building.

It comes as hospital bosses are poised to action a £12m hospital scheme on the existing site.

Historic buildings watchdog English Heritage says it has been asked to look at “listing” the current 1930s hospital for its historic or architectural merit.

There are fears that the process could hold up the project for up to six months - sparking frustration and anger among hospital supporters who have suffered a rollercoaster of highs and lows for more than a decade as rebuild plans were drawn up, debated and frequently delayed.

But last night the London-based preservation group behind the move defended its stance, urged hospital bosses to convert the current “handsome” building, and stressed the decision could be made in days or weeks rather than months.

Rebuild plans by the hospital owners, the Norfolk and Norwich University Trust, involve a complex concentrating on day surgery, outpatient clinics - but no overnight beds - mainly funded by a six-year-old, £11m legacy from local millionairess Sagle Bernstein.

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But just as N&N bosses were two weeks into seeking tenders for someone to start building the project towards the end of the year, English Heritage wrote delivering news of the latest hitch - putting the whole thing on ice again.

Key historic elements appear to be the Cape Dutch gable front, and rear verandas installed so patients could enjoy the benefits of sunshine.

Conservation charity Save Britain's Heritage is the body calling for the site to be listed. Secretary Adam Wilkinson said they were aware of the threat to the hospital, which was one of just six Cape Dutch buildings in the UK.

“We want the whole thing to be listed. The veranda is an integral part. It is an extremely handsome building if some of the modern additions are stripped away, and could be converted for hospital or housing use.”

Health authorities were some of the worst custodians of historic buildings, and had seen the lobby group in an earlier battle over saving parts of the old Norfolk and Norwich hospital from demolition.

Mr Wilkinson stressed that achieving a listing did not necessarily “preserve a building in aspic”, but simply ensured there was a “pause for thought and argument.”

Providing a new hospital and saving the old one were not incompatible, and he was confident there could be a solution that did not involve demolition - though it might take a bit longer, adding “good things come to those that wait.”

Trust chairman David Prior said: “We have all waited many years to get this project moving and it is very frustrating to be informed at this late stage of a significant delay.

“We understand that English Heritage has an important role to play in our nation's heritage and we look forward to working with them. Nonetheless, this new development is a blow at a point when we had started the long-awaited redevelopment process for a new state-of the-art NHS hospital for local residents.”

Officials had agreed to look at calls to save the gable, but Mr Prior could not see “anything remotely significant” in the veranda, which is due to be bulldozed to make way for the new hospital. He was surprised that if it was historically important, the matter had not arisen during the many years a rebuild had been under debate.

Mr Prior hoped it would be just a “blip” and hopefully only a short delay. The hospital would be urging English Heritage to weigh the architectural merit of the current hospital with the public benefit of building a new one.

MP Norman Lamb said he was deeply concerned and frustrated at the “spanner in the works” being thrown in at such a late stage and hoped it would not scupper the plans.

“The last thing we want now is another delay just at the point when there was renewed confidence the rebuild will happen,” he added.

Mr Lamb will be contacting English Heritage to question the listing call, and seek to resolve the matter quickly.

English Heritage makes recommendations about listings to the secretary of state for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport who reaches the final decision.