HYWEL DDA HEALTH BOARD’S consultation about the location of its new General Hospital opened a fortnight ago.
The consultation is not about returning services to Withybush. Neither is it a springboard for a campaign to centre a new hospital in Haverfordwest.
The consultation’s brief makes it abundantly clear that it wants to gather views on potential sites for the new hospital.
The new hospital will be the leading site for the Board’s network of hospitals. It will provide both urgent and planned care.
The Board claims that the economy of scale achieved by a new site will enable it to recruit more consultants in permanent posts, available 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
Consequently, the Board aims to meet its key target of discharging people as soon as possible so they can receive rehabilitation closer to home.
The Board plans to will provide emergency and unplanned care in different buildings to planned care.
The Board asks the public to nominate a site somewhere between – and including – St Clears and Narberth.
That ‘zone’ is the most central location for most of the population in the south of Hywel Dda Health Board’s area and was decided upon following its previous 2018 consultation.
The sites nominated will need to meet four criteria, shown in the graphic below.
It follows that nominating anywhere outside that area will be a waste of time and effort.
The consultation is not a referendum.
In respect of the new hospital’s location, it asks only for nominations in a defined area.
The new hospital’s need to be accessible would appear to rule out its location near Narberth.
Narberth’s existing street infrastructure is notoriously difficult to navigate and unsuited to the significant increase that would inevitably follow a new hospital’s construction.
Narberth’s railway station is some distance from the town, and the land around it already developed.
The cost of upgrading road and rail infrastructure around Narberth would be prohibitively expensive, and investing in it is beyond the Health Board’s control.
The proposed new A40 spur, planned for the dangerous Redstone Cross junction, is a possible solution. However, that would still need a long-term road solution for patients and vehicles travelling from the south of Narberth to avoid hitting a traffic bottleneck.
Again, that is beyond the Health Board’s control.
Heading east from Redstone Cross, the following major road interchange is at Penblewin. While that also presents some problems with south to north travel, it is accessible from Cardigan via the A478. It also connects Pembrokeshire to Carmarthenshire on the main trunk route (the A40).
The downside is that traffic is already heavy at that interchange. There are inadequate public transport links to the site.
While the Welsh Government has repeatedly promised to dual the A40 in Pembrokeshire, it hasn’t in twenty-two years, and its environmental agenda suggests it ain’t going to do it any time soon.
And long-delayed road projects figure heavily at the next point east at Llanddewi Velfrey.
The promised bypass for the village is still in development hell. The money spent on consultations, surveys, assessments, and public meetings have not resulted in an inch of tarmac being laid.
Again, the Welsh Government’s ‘green’ agenda means road infrastructure projects are further down its list of priorities.
Travelling east from Llanddewi Velfrey, the land at the base of Pengawse Hill on either side of the road is on a floodplain and crisscrossed by small waterways and springs.
Looking at Whitland itself, the Mart’s location close to the main A40 junction and its proximity to a mainline railway station is superficially attractive. Essential utilities are already on site.
However, the land is low-lying. Whether there is enough land available in a single block for an extensive development is doubtful.
The land abutting the A477, running east-to-west to the A40’s south, is often flooded. The A477 was, in part, rerouted because of the floodplain’s existence.
Larger parcels of agricultural land are available to the east of Whitland, for example, at Backe. However, these would need massive road infrastructure improvements.
A potential development site close to the northern side of the A40 travelling east would be at Pwll Trap, the last stop before reaching St Clears. That would place new roadworks less than a mile from an already busy roundabout.
St Clears has two attractions: firstly, it is on the main interchange between the A40 and the A477; secondly, the UK Government is already committed to reinstituting its mainline railway station.
The town’s commercial centre is in long-term decline, and the area is targeted for regeneration.
St Clears is also within easy reach of the major resort towns of West Carmarthenshire and South Pembrokeshire.
The massive influx of tourists to those areas and the resulting increase in demand for acute services in the summer months might sway the Board’s considerations.
However, a lot of land around St Clears is already earmarked for development as part of Carmarthenshire County Council’s Local Development Plan.
Acquiring enough land, even were it available, could be very expensive.
The choice narrows, on our analysis, to Whitland or St Clears (or very near to either).
While the public can nominate sites anywhere and everywhere in the consultation area, the truth is the final say will belong to the market.
Whatever happens, the critical battle for Pembrokeshire will be fighting more service closures at Withybush.