‘Squatters’ delay new North Walsham hospital

Squatters on the site of North Walsham's planned new hospital are delaying work on the project which will not now be fully finished until the new year.

Two families have taken up residence, despite attempts to bring in the 'heavies', and cannot legally be moved to allow work on the 24-bedded unit to go-ahead, according to NHS Norfolk.

The guilty parties are dunnocks and blackbirds. A number of the trees need to be felled to make way for the building work but it is a condition of the planning consent that nesting birds cannot be disturbed.

'Anticipating this, NHS Norfolk commissioned a private contractor to fly a hawk in the vicinity to scare off any would-be newcomers but far from being scared, the dunnocks and blackbirds built nests. And there are likely to be more nesting up to September,' said a spokesman.

NHS Norfolk is also acting on the advice of an ornithological report commissioned from UEA.

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Assistant director of estates commissioning, Graham Copsey, said: 'Naturally we are disappointed but we have to accept a short delay.

'We tried to prevent birds from nesting but nature has taken its course and we cannot start building now until after the breeding season is over.'

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The �3.75m unit was due to be ready this autumn but NHS chiefs now estimate that the hand-over will be in December, with outside works likely to run into January.

'We can't rule out any increase in costs caused by inflationary pressures, this would be entirely normal in a process like this, however we remain confident that any increase will be manageable within our resources,' the spokesman added.

Brian Elliott, chairman of the hospital's league of friends, said: 'The most important thing is that we are going to get a brand new ward at the hospital after all this time, and it is a relatively short delay.'

Mr Elliott is also chairman of the Community Involvement Panel which has spent two years working on the plans with NHS Norfolk.

The new hospital will replace the current 18-bedded unit and will be built beside Rebecca House, the former mental health in-patient unit, which has undergone a �1.6m revamp. It is due to open later this month, providing outpatient services, clinics and administration offices.

** North Walsham Town Councillors are backing a call for patients at the town's new hospital to be given freshly-cooked meals rather than pre-prepared food transported from Cambridge.

Veteran campaigner George Cook, 85, wrote to the council asking its support for his suggestion that meals be prepared in the neighbouring Norfolk County Council-run Rose Meadow residential home.

Mr Cook, who marched and spoke at public rallies when the hospital was under threat in 2007, said the new ward would only have a small kitchen.

He argued that the food would not be as 'nutritionally valuable' as meals prepared on site and said it would also cost money to transport, extra vehicles used would cause congestion and pollution, food wrappings would not be re-usable, and reheating the food could make it 'dry and unappetising'.

Rose Meadow's kitchen could be enlarged if necessary, he said. The plan would also benefit local food suppliers.

Councillors unanimously agreed to write to NHS Norfolk asking it to look at the idea.

They are also seeking backing from North Norfolk District Council and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb for the scheme.

But Mark Page, Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust's assistant director of estates, facilities and procurement, said while they would look at 'other feasible options,' there were no plans to alter current arrangements which ensured that meals were of a very high standard, and cost effective.

Most community hospitals' food, including North Walsham, was provided by Lifespan Catering Services, part of Anglia Support Partnerships (ASP), said Mr Page. The majority of meal ingredients were sourced near the company's Cambridge base.

The firm used a cook-chill system with hot food being 'regenerated' at each site.

He added 'As our contractor delivers meals to a number of our sites as part of one journey, including Benjamin Court in Cromer, Swaffham Community Hospital and Dereham Community Hospital, we are also able to minimise transport costs for the meals once they are produced.'

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