Inside Croydon has discovered that one of the letters submitted in support of the controversial hospital development at Higher Drive in Kenley was “signed” on behalf of an inner London NHS hospital by a nurse who has not worked there for at least two years. Several other support letters are of dubious provenance.
The suggestion that letters submitted in support of commercial carehome operator Fairlie House may have been falsified has prompted local residents to consider legal action ahead of a review of the application by the Planning Inspectorate.
Fairlie House, who want to build a 50-bed hospital on two plots in the middle of a residential area, has formally appealed against Croydon Council’s decision to refuse its planning application for 94 Higher Drive. They are already building a 27-bedroom home at 92 Higher Drive, after a previous appeal to the Planning Inspectorate last year.
When the planning application for 94 Higher Drive was considered last month by Croydon Council, there were 240 objections lodged. The council planning department also received a file of a dozen letters of support for the scheme, some apparently from residents, others claiming to be from healthcare bodies.
Without exception, the support letters speak of the need for carehome facilities in the area – a matter which has never been in dispute. But none of them addressed the planning issues such as traffic and road safety or the interests of existing residents.
The names and addresses of individual supporters are impossible for third parties to check, since their details are withheld by the council. But Inside Croydon was able to investigate the support letters sent by the various health bodies.
Three were sent from Croydon centres, one from Sutton and Merton Primary Care Trust, one from Southwark and one from St Thomas’s Hospital in Lambeth. Two letters were worded identically but signed with different names. Six of the letters supported the development at No92, where building work is well underway.
Our first call sought to speak to someone called Debbie Field, who according to the support letter is a “consultant nurse” at the Lane Fox Unit at St Thomas’s. Field’s letter submitted to the Croydon planning hearing was not sent on official, headed paper, although the undated letter claims to be signed “on behalf of the LFRU clinical team”.
Field’s letter explains the need for long-term care for patients and the lack of suitable homes in south-east England. The letter goes on: “The LFRU has a very close working relationship with Fairlie House who are currently caring for 7 of our venitilator-dependent patients. We have found Fairlie House holistic philosophy of care extremely beneficial for all 7 patents…”
We noted Field’s use of the word “currently” in terms of the unit’s work with Fairlie House, and so we phoned her. “She’s not here,” the duty nurse at her office told us. We asked when she might be back.
“She won’t,” we were told. “Debbie Field hasn’t worked here for two years.”
We tried other healthcare bodies to discover why they, as public-funded bodies, were spending time and resources to support Fairlie House, which is a commercial, profit-making organisation. It turned out that they don’t.
And we spoke to Croydon’s planning department to ask what routine checks they do on letters of support or opposition in planning applications. “Oh, we don’t do that,” came the response from the council officer. So how do they know whether any of the letters submitted have not just been “made up”?
“Oh, suppose we don’t really.”
Which means that it is almost impossible to know whether any of the support letters are genuine.
There are serious doubts about the veracity of at least one other letter submitted supporting Fairlie House’s planning application, with an NHS trust stating that a letter was “mistakenly” sent by an employee on headed paper.
“We do not support private development applications, these should be assessed on their own merit,” a Southwark PCT spokesman said. “We will discuss this, and clarify with the developer.”
Mary Piper, of NHS Croydon, had a letter in her name submitted in support of the development, dated March 10, 2011. But Piper has said that this letter was written some time ago. She understood that she was writing in support of the care standards and was supporting the development of No92. She said that she did not write in support of the development of No94.
An official at St Thomas’s NHS Trust described the “Debbie Field letter” as “illegitimate”, adding, “The Trust does not provide letters of support for private or commercial developments.”
John Whelan, the former video shop owner who is now a millionaire thanks to moving in to the lucrative carehome business, has decried the residents’ genuine opposition to his plans for Higher Drive.
“The real scandal here is that 200 people who have been misinformed and whipped up into a frenzy can delay the development of a carehome that more than 300,000 people in this borough need so desperately,” Whelan was recently quoted as saying by the Sadvertiser.
Brian Watson, spokesman for the local residents opposing the hospital development, has told Inside Croydon that his group are concerned at the builders’ regular breaches of the planning permissions that they already have for No92.
They also believe that the hospital at No92 will depend on building going ahead at No94 for key facilities and power supply.
But after being dismissed as “Nimbys”, the Higher Drive residents are now furious at what they see as a clear attempt to mislead planning officials with bogus support letters.
“No one would deny that a carehome is needed, they are needed all over the country, our objection is that it is being built in the wrong place,” Watson said.
“It’s in the wrong place for all concerned, apart from John Whelan that is. It’s in the wrong place for the patients, it’s in the wrong place for their visitors, it’s in the wrong place for the staff, it’s in the wrong place for the medical professionals who need to attend the unit, and yes, it’s in the wrong place for the residents of Higher Drive and surrounding roads.
“It’s in the wrong place for many, many reasons. So why build it there in the first place? Simple, it’s cheaper, a word very close to Whelan’s heart. For we aren’t talking about a nice cosy NHS unit here, this is an aggressive money-making, ‘Profit From Patients’ organisation, a unit which charges astronomical amounts of money to the already cash-strapped NHS for housing its patients.” Watson said.
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