We have heard again that the Royal Brompton is considering moving out of Chelsea to a site on the south bank as part of St. Thomas’s hospital. On 21st August 2020 the Chairman of the Society made the following statement:
“For nearly 100 years the Chelsea Society has fought to maintain and improve the amenities of Chelsea. Foremost among these is a world-class tertiary hospital. We know that it is expensive to maintain and operate this hospital, so we have always engaged constructively with the Trustees when they have wished to realise some of the value of their land. However, a complete closure of the hospital and transfer to another site would be a hugely expensive and disruptive process and would deprive Chelsea of an institution of which it is very proud. The site is classified as community land, and we would oppose any attempt to turn it into a luxury housing estate.”
Members will be aware that we reported on this in February 2018, when we said “We have seen press reports that The Royal Brompton Hospital is considering whether to leave Chelsea. They are doing a feasibility study to look at the major concept recently reported in the Press of their eventually moving all their activities (in 10 or even 20 years) to a new building on the South Bank of the Thames near Guy’s and Thomas’s and integrating with those two hospitals. This study is expected to provide either a (qualified) YES or a definite NO answer. There are huge issues of risk – not only financial and clinical but also in planning terms and politically.
It does appear that the NHS want them to move their paediatric Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) activities to the Evelina Hospital site (next to St Thomas’s) by 2022, so if the study results in a negative answer they will still be facing the NHS/ CHD issue which has been threatening their future viability over the last two years.
If the answer is in principle YES and they decide to move the entire hospital to the South Bank, they would then be selling all their land in Chelsea to developers. The political risk of planning a big new hospital at a time when NHS funding is under such pressure would anyway be considerable.
A YES answer would put in doubt their existing/approved plans for the proposed large new building for respiratory patients on their car park/Britten Street site, (and the associated residential development) see https://chelseasociety.org.uk/brompton-hospital-community-liaison-group/ as such a large building could not be justified for what would obviously be only a very short life span.
We were surprised by this turn of events, and we are informed by the Royal Brompton that nothing has been decided and that the move may not take place in the near future or at all.
In the meantime the hospital is consulting on its proposal to redevelop the temporary building on Dovehouse Street, to make more efficient use of its diagnostic equipment, as to which see https://chelseasociety.org.uk/royal-brompton-hospital/
The Society values the Royal Brompton Hospital and would not wish it to move away from Chelsea. Nevertheless the Planning Committee of the Society met on 15th February 2018 to consider what use we would wish to see in that event for the whole site bounded by the King’s Road, the Fulham Road, Sydney Street and Dovehouse Street. At present the site is a very unattractive mix of buildings and open space which is not worthy of such an important site in the heart of Chelsea.
We are aware that the medical staff of the Royal Brompton and the Royal Marsden have a very good working relationship, but this does not appear to be the case at the top level of governance.
Our preference would be for any land vacated by the Royal Brompton to remain in use for the purposes of medical care, and we would wish to see it occupied by The Royal Marsden Hospital and its associated research institutions, together with any additional facilities which the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, general practitioners, and other healthcare providers, might need.
If, as we would prefer, the Royal Brompton stays in Chelsea, we would wish to see the whole site developed as a world-class medical campus, and not be subjected to piecemeal development with no unity of purpose or style. A very imaginative proposal was made in 2015 by Jon Moynihan, a local resident and member of The Chelsea Society, who spent a great deal of his own time and money creating a 138-page booklet which describes his proposal, gives examples of plans and elevations, evaluates the likely costs, and examines ways in which the development could be financed. He estimated the cost at £908.7 million, which is less than the cost of providing a Crossrail 2 station.
The central feature of his proposal is to create four underground floors, with a road running though the site from Sydney Street to the Fulham Road above basement level 3 so that basement levels -1 and -2 would be open to natural light. The road would connect the whole site together. This is the kind of scheme which the Chelsea Society would support in principle, but more work would need to be done by the hospitals and their advisers and RBKC before it could be known whether it would be feasible in physical and financial terms, and whether the interests of local residents could be adequately protected during the construction phase. In the meantime, it would be unfortunate if the implementation of piecemeal development on the site should make a comprehensive redevelopment impossible.