Case against FHC attacked by experts

Evidence gathering by the Health and Wellbeing Review Committee continued last week as several experts spoke in two special meetings at Islington Town Hall. John Allan of Avanti Architects, John Cooper of Architects for Health, Dr. Richard Sykes who chaired the trust which refurbished the De La Warr Pavillion (not, unfortunately, the same Richard Sykes who is now chair of NHS London) and Alec Foreshaw, recently retired Islington Chief Conservation Officer, submitted evidence about the plans to close the Finsbury Health Centre.

John Allan, Avanti Architects and John Cooper, Architects for Health

John Allan gave a presentation which covered the history of the building, his practice’s involvement with it in the 1990s and the costing issues. In 1994 Avanti restored one wing of Finsbury Health Centre, replaced the roof, and drew up plans to refurbish the rest of the building. The star of his presentation was the March 1995 certificate of planning consent for a lift, which Avanti had planned to put in office space at the centre of the building. He also said that if scaled up from then, implementing their full plan, which included higher quality materials than might be necessary, would cost about £5 million. As it is, “a third of the building as already been refurbished, at least in terms of its shell.”

Both Allan and Cooper were dismissive of the PCT’s claims that Finsbury Health Centre cannot be made ‘fit for purpose’ to provide ‘healthcare for the 21st century’. Discussing the PCT’s fears about achieving infection control Cooper wrote, “the PCT document states that this is severely compromised by the absence of a clean and a dirty utility room – approximately 28 square metres of space. The notion that this would be difficult to achieve in a floor plate of 2000 square metres is nonsensical.” Both also felt that a refurbishment could easily solve the other problems raised by the PCT like privacy and access. “The level of technology/equipment within a building is an accurate measure of the level of investment which the facility has received…If ‘the storage looks shabby’, as their evidence states, it can only be the PCT which is responsible for this shortcoming.”

Dr Richard Sykes, former chair of the De La Warr Pavillion Trust

Two days later Dr Richard Sykes gave a presentation and answered questions about how the refurbishment of the De La Warr Pavillion in Bexhill-on-Sea was accomplished via a not-for-profit trust. It is a community arts and education centre in a building of similar age to the Finsbury Health Centre.  He felt their trust was a potentially useful model for Finsbury Health Centre, since they were able to take the problem of refurbishing and maintaining the building off the shoulders of the local council, as well as having better access to charitable and other funds unavailable to statutory bodies.

He suggested that raising money to keep it to its intended use might be easier, with combination of funds from heritage and medical charities, than if the use were changed. The De La Warr Trust, with a combination of heritage and arts funding not only raised enough grant money to entirely cover the costs of refurbishment, but has since been able to accumulate a growing fund for community programmes within the building.

In their evidence the PCT did not reject the trust idea per se, but they gave short shrift to the suggestion of the Heritage of London Trust (HoLT) made by SaveFHC and others, seemingly after only having looked at their website. The PCT refused to meet in the Spring of this year after HoLT Operations had expressed a keen interest in taking on the refurbishment of Finsbury Health Centre to SaveFHC.

Alec Forshaw, Islington’s former Chief Conservation Officer

Last but not least, Alec Foreshaw, who recently retired as Chief Conservation Officer in Islington after working here for 30 years, made a passionate appeal for FHC’s continued use as a Health Centre on conservation, sustainability and community cohesion grounds. He said that the building’s use is a key component of its ‘heritage value’ and affirmed, like Johns Allan and Cooper, the building’s inherant flexibility and functionality. “After all, it’s been in continuous use as a health centre for over 70 years, in that time has been successfully adapted to many changes in clinical practice already. There is no reason why it cannot continue to do so. Once the use is gone, the spirit of the building is dead.”

When Cllr Martin Klute asked why a health and well-being committee should concern themselves about ‘nostalgia’, Foreshaw said that people respond to their public buildings, which give the community an important sense of continuity.

Foreshaw also said that the PCT’s sudden change of heart 18 months ago – after several years work on plans for refurbishment – seemed to be down to a change of personnel within the PCT and the institution of the LIFT partners. “They’ve shown no enthusiasm for Finsbury Health Centre, and only seem to be interested new-build projects. In adding the extra risk costs, they seem to be massaging the figures to go with this attitude.” He also questioned the viability of transferring eight services to St Luke’s Community Centre any time soon, since the prospect of a new building there had become dim with the drop in the property market, and no plans for a new building had been submitted. The PCT had claimed the previous week that they had confirmation from St Luke’s “in the last twenty-four hours” that their centre could accommodate the proposed moves and that a new centre would be built.

The PCT were invited to these meetings but have so far not bothered to attend.

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