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Concerned Citizens For Hospital Services

Napier Grey Power; Napier Health Action Group

Wai 692 Claimants; And Napier Committee Of Concerned Citizens For Hospital Services

Nearly a year ago, the WAI 692 claimants engaged in a widely-advertised consultation process with Maori and the wider community in Napier. The consultation involved two meetings and several hundred people. It showed virtually unanimous support for the claimants' vision of continuing to use the Napier Hill site as a basis for delivering health services to Napier people.

Why was it that earlier this month, Health Minister Annette King announced that hospital services would not be restored at the Napier Hospital site, and local MP Russell Fairbrother abandoned undertakings he had publicly given to support the restoration of services there? What was the reason for this timing? There has been no meeting between the Crown and the WAI 692 claimants this year. The Crown has not found the opportunity to work through the findings of the consultation exercise with the claimants. At the time of his announcement, Mr Fairbrother had not met with any of our groups, nor conducted any other public meeting, to discuss the issue or to explain why he now wishes to reverse his earlier declared position.

The only logical conclusion is that the announcement is intended to put pressure on the Napier City Council to release the caveat it holds over the Hill site. The Council's declared policy is that the caveat must remain while there is any possibility of using the land for hospital and health services. The Crown cannot sell the site with the caveat in place.

Our groups accept that the Napier Hospital of old will not reopen in the form in which it was. But Government has so far failed to answer key questions or to seriously engage in meaningful consultation. Our fight for adequate health services in Napier therefore continues.

Emerging new threats to Napier's health services mean that our efforts are being redoubled, and WE NOW SEEK WIDESPREAD PUBLIC SUPPORT.

The most significant new threat locally comes in the train of the "Big Box" issue. All the land from Write Price right up to the Health Centre in Wellesley Road is now to become the subject of a major commercial development.

As is well known, the Health Centre was constructed in such a way that it can be readily and cheaply transformed into a shopping centre.

The Health Centre is hopelessly expensive for the District Health Board; at a rental of $1¼ million a year, it is not cost-effective. This has been the subject of presentations made by members of our groups to the Board and the City Council. It is agreed by Health Board members that the present commercial terms are extraordinarily disadvantageous. The lease of the Health Centre is therefore unlikely to be renewed when present commitments expire.

So there is a very high probability that the Wellesley Road Centre will become part of the shopping complex when its lease comes up for renewal. NAPIER WILL THEN BE LEFT WITH NO PUBLIC HEALTH CENTRE.

Against this background it is essential that the Hill site continue to be reserved for health services. Unlike Wellesley Road it is rent free and rate free. Our forefathers' vision of a site that they delineated from the Town Plan and "permanently reserved" for health purposes will become more compelling than ever.

One building on the Hill site, Arohaina, is in such a good condition that it could be used with comparatively little alteration as a base from which health services could be delivered now. If Arohaina becomes the key to settle the WAI 692 claim and the Hill site and other permanent buildings are retained as the eventual location of the replacement for the Wellesley Road centre, everyone in Napier will be in a win-win situation. And we will have kept faith with our predecessors and shown that we too can plan for the future.

Meanwhile we reject any contention that the Crown has the right to determine independently what should happen to the Hill site. It does not belong to the Crown. It belongs, has always belonged, to the people of Napier. Local Maori provided the land, in return for promises of health services. Local residents paid for the original hospital on the site, which opened debt free without Government assistance. No compensation has ever been paid to the city for the loss of its asset.

In the course of the WAI 692 claim, exhaustive investigation proved many breaches of natural justice and failures of consultation. While the Waitangi Tribunal was concerned with the situation as it involved Maori, its findings on these aspects apply equally to all Napier residents. The city has received no apology. This too must be addressed. Certainly the situation must not be allowed to worsen through yet another Government making half-baked decisions without genuine and thorough consultation with the people of Napier.

Another concern needs to be addressed during such consultation. The Government recently issued figures acknowledging that on a population and demographic basis, Hawke's Bay health is currently being under-funded by 16½ million dollars a year. (In percentage terms this is the second worst deficit in the country. At the other extreme is Auckland, which is over-funded by 34½ million.) Worse, Government proposes no immediate and urgent action to correct the deficit.

Amongst the actions we are taking to meet our present concerns:

1. Each of our groups is seeking to make a presentation to Council at its next full meeting. We will be underlining the danger now confronting future health services in the city, and the importance of Council retaining its caveat on the Hill site.

2. In a letter to the Napier Health Action Group, Russell Fairbrother says it would help him to know how many people share our concern. He would have seen part of the answer in the large number who attended the consultation efforts of the WAI 692 claimants. To establish a broader answer, simultaneous with this media release we are writing to each of the many groups linked with the Napier Council of Social Services and to bodies such as the RSA, Cosmopolitan Club, Age Concern and sports clubs which have shown an interest in Napier health issues in the past. We are sending them a copy of the release, and inviting their response.

3. The Napier Health Action Group is working towards a formal constitution and towards incorporation at a full public meeting.

To date, Hawke's Bay as a whole and Napier in particular has had a very raw deal from the health reforms of the past fifteen years. Our work will not be done until our people have had a far better deal. We will accept no less.

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