A NEW mental health unit at Gwent’s major hospital has been given planning approval – but a local councillor has raised concerns about parking.
The specialist inpatient unit at Cwmbran’s Grange Hospital will bring together services currently based at St Cadoc’s Hospital in Caerleon and Maindiff Court near Abergavenny, but it is unclear when it will open.
The Aneurin Bevan University Health Board is expected to put an outline business case – one of the early steps needed to secure funding – to the Welsh Government in March, but Torfaen Borough Council’s planning committee unanimously approved an application for outline planning permission when it met this afternoon.
The mostly single-storey unit will have a total of 65 beds, a crisis assessment support area, and a place where police can take someone in need of “immediate care or control” for up to 36 hours if they are thought to be a risk to themselves or others.
The council’s planning consultant Duncan Smith told the committee the unit is planned for the south side of the Grange Hospital site, which is within the Llanfrechfa Strategic Action Area the council has earmarked for future development, including a possible new housing settlement.
It is also planned to use part of an agricultural field, bordering the hospital site, which is owned by the Welsh Government and Mr Smith said though the field is just 2.44 hectares of “lower grade agricultural land” it is within open countryside and the Special Landscape Area east of Cwmbran that runs down to Ponthir.
But he said councillors could still approve the application despite there being a presumption against development.
He said: “In this instance that loss of land, and loss of the Special Landscape Area, is acceptable.”
Llanfrechfa and Ponthir councillor Karl Gauden said it was acknowledged the 144 car parking spaces is 19 short against the criteria used to determine provision.
The Labour councillor said: “Speak to anybody who lives along Caerleon Road and parking is a massive problem. Those estates and streets are used as an overflow. I’m a Unison official and I visit the Grange for work and parking is completely horrendous.”
He asked if a condition could be imposed that the 19 spaces are provided but Mr Smith said the health board’s position is the standard assessment used for hospitals wouldn’t apply to an inpatient unit.
Mr Smith said: “Therefore the need for parking isn’t as great. I did take that up with a highways officer and they were satisfied overall it wouldn’t be a problem.”
He added that the hospital, which opened in 2020, is “causing the issue” and the health board has agreed to put money towards a study of how people can walk or cycle to the hospital which he said would be “retrofitted”.
A potential Llanfrechfa relief road has also been planned for the development area and Mr Smith said the possible route has been protected but new housing would be needed to fund it.
A special access road, which will be grassed over after completion of the unit, will also be created over a grassed areas of the current hospital site to keep construction traffic away from the main hospital.
According to the health board locating the unit at the acute hospital site will “destigmatise” mental health care and there will also be clinical benefits to it being based on the same site.
Planning conditions will be used to ensure protection of bats in the area and trees will screen the unit from houses in Caerleon Road.