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Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I am grateful for this brief opportunity to add my comments in support of the remarks made by my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck).

As has been said, the Paddington health campus is a large undertaking, but it is also a project whose time has come. It will offer all the people of London and, indeed, the country more generally, world-class facilities across a range of medical disciplines. It is an essential component of Westminster's regeneration plans for a highly visible part of our capital, the significance of which goes way beyond the local level. I endorse the hon. Lady's comments. She rightly said that Paddington is a much changed area, and that change continues. It is a little unfair to compare the plans with those of even six or seven years ago.

The Minister is aware that a vast amount of preparatory work and expenditure have been invested to get to where we are today, and I urge him to recognise
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how much has been achieved. That there have been difficulties and disagreements along the way is not surprising. The crucial point to note is that there is now a strong, influential and robust coalition of support for the scheme, both medically and politically. Any project that unites the Conservative leader of Westminster city council and the Mayor of London—never mind hon. Members from opposing parties who have a direct constituency interest—is surely also worthy of the Government's support.

This has been described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and few would demur from that description. Indeed, only occasionally can we say that all the planets are aligned in favour of such an important project being given the go-ahead, but that is now the case. There is nothing to be gained from delaying a decision until after the election. Political uncertainty is perhaps the project's greatest threat.

I understand that the rector of Imperial college, Sir Richard Sykes, has only this afternoon been in touch with No. 10 Downing street to express that wonderful global institution's support for the scheme and, I have no doubt, to muse on the significant boost it would give to Britain's ability to continue playing a leading role in international medical and scientific research.

Westminster city council is, as we speak, engaged in discussions to reduce still further the public sector's exposure and to strike a more beneficial accommodation for the taxpayer with the private sector partners, whose positive contribution and needs in unlocking the project must also be recognised.

I do not wish to rehearse the formidable points that the hon. Lady made, but here today and, I suspect, on many other occasions, the will for the project to succeed and bring its undoubted benefits to London and the country is very much apparent among the trusts and politicians involved locally. I urge the Minister and his Government to demonstrate their political will and support the Paddington health campus.

6.28 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) on securing the debate. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) on his interest in the matter. I know that the subject is of real concern to my hon. Friend and other hon. Members. She has raised it before with Ministers and, as she said, with the Prime Minister. I have no doubt that the matter is also of great concern to her constituents and to many national health service patients in west London and throughout the United Kingdom. It will have significance to them.

In October 2001, the Department of Health announced that it intended to develop a new health campus at Paddington. I emphasise at the outset, as did my hon. Friend, that this is not a proposal to build a single super-hospital but a development that would bring together three major hospitals and a medical faculty on a single new campus.

The proposed Paddington health campus scheme embodies a bold and exciting vision for the wholesale redevelopment and renewal of services and facilities that are currently dispersed across north-west London and
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exist, in many instances, in outmoded and unsuitable accommodation. It plans to combine this on the new site, bringing together the renowned expertise of the Royal Brompton hospital and Harefield hospital, along with St. Mary's hospital, a busy secondary and tertiary centre with a strong focus on serving the needs of Paddington. Imperial College postgraduate research and teaching centres will share the campus, which will embrace the use of technology to improve levels of patient care. The environment for patients and staff will include state-of-the-art facilities and diagnostics in both new and fully refurbished buildings, replacing run-down, old and unsuitable accommodation.

This is a vision that the Government fully support. We see it as an excellent proposal not only for local health services but for the specialist services that will be provided to the wider NHS on the site. There is substantial support within the local NHS for the Paddington health campus, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said. I understand and appreciate this. We are working with the local NHS to find a sensible way forward for the campus.

Any new proposal—my hon. Friend alluded to this—must offer the very best value for money and be affordable by the health economy. Before the Government can finally turn their support for the vision into a final commitment to proceed, we need to work through the business proposals to ascertain whether the numbers add up. Until now, the key challenge facing the campus project team has been to demonstrate value for money with acquisition of the land needed. That is not to criticise it—any project board would have the same challenge. A scheme of this size or complexity has never been undertaken by the NHS, and transparently demonstrating its viability takes time, hence the apparent delays.

In 2001, the original outline business case estimated the cost of this redevelopment at £325 million. However, in 2003 it was recognised that the price of the project had escalated way beyond its original OBC approval figure to £800 million. Given this rise in the cost, a review of the OBC and the management of the project was necessary, and this was undertaken in late 2003.

The review team was led by officials from the Department of Health and included officials from the Treasury and the National Audit Office. I believe that it was right to conduct the review. In October 2004 the review concluded that a revised OBC should be submitted by the project team to the Department. It was agreed that, when approved by Department officials, the OBC would be submitted to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury for consideration and approval.

The revised OBC was approved by North West London strategic health authority and submitted by the project team to the Department in December 2004, and it is currently being reviewed by Department officials. One key issue from the revised OBC is that the NHS needed to acquire land from Westminster city council and Paddington Development Corporation Ltd., a
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privately owned consortium. It is this complex land transaction, linked to a large PFI hospital contract, that has until now made this such a difficult project to progress.

However, the campus project team is right now considering an exciting new proposal whereby Westminster city council would enable the land deal for significantly better value for money than the proposal described in the current OBC. For Westminster city council, the campus project would be the final piece    in the regeneration of Paddington. It would provide key benefits to the local economy, including 7,000 permanent jobs, thousands of construction jobs, millions of pounds of investment in the local economy and significant amounts of key worker housing in an area adjacent to some of the most deprived wards in London. The four wards surrounding the site are among the 10 per cent. most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK.

Full details of the proposal and its possible impact on the project should shortly be with the Department. They will be worked through as quickly as possible, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North and the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster will accept that we cannot progress the work in detail until we have the final proposal in our hands. Work will, however, take place as quickly as possible, and I assure my hon. Friend that the Department and Ministers will do everything that we can, working with the local NHS, to expedite progress, to evaluate the proposal and develop it into an addendum to the original business case. Like her, I await those details with great interest.

Of course, not everyone shares my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for the project, as she openly admitted. The Paddington health campus plans have generated considerable controversy, not only in constituencies in the area but in others. However, the quality of building stock at Paddington, Chelsea and Harefield needs to be improved. Two thirds of the Royal Brompton and the vast majority of both Harefield and St. Mary's are long overdue for replacement. Those issues cannot be ducked and must be dealt with in the very near future, health campus or not.

In addition, Harefield hospital will, in the not-too-distant future, become unsustainable as a viable specialist heart hospital. It is crucial for the success of single-speciality hospitals that they have access to a wide range of related sub-specialities. Harefield, which is several miles from local general hospitals, is not in a position to draw on the support of the wider range of specialties that are found at such hospitals. The high-quality work and legacy of Harefield hospital will be sustained at Paddington health campus through proximity with St. Mary's. Even if that were not the case, Harefield is on a greenbelt site, and therefore constrained by planning regulations. It is difficult for people who do not live in the local area to access it by public transport, and a major redevelopment at Harefield would have a knock-on effect on the surrounding hospitals.

It must be remembered that a large proportion of Harefield's patients will receive routine care and treatment at their local hospitals. Only patients
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requiring specialist care would go to Paddington health campus. I am sure that the House will agree that that we should all be prepared to accept that hospital and community services must, from time to time, change if we are to continue to fulfil patients' needs and improve services. Services should not remain static for ever, but must reflect advances in technology and clinical practice. Of course, all the planning and analysis is bound to create uncertainty. Throughout the transitional phase, staff involved in the scheme and those who have continued to provide health care to Paddington patients have worked tirelessly, despite their concerns. I pay tribute to all the staff who contribute to the excellent work of those hospitals.
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I can assure my hon. Friend—and I hope that this is the promise that she was seeking from tonight's debate—that Department officials are working closely with North West London strategic health authority, commissioners and providers of health care in Paddington and west London to arrive at the best solution quickly and expeditiously for the local health economy. Like her, I remain excited by the project and its potential. The Government and I want decisions to be made as quickly as is safe.

Question put and agreed to.

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