Construction of a public hospital for Melbourne’s burgeoning eastern edge that is considered urgent by the state government could be delayed amid a legal fight over the compulsory acquisition of shopping centre land.
In an application filed with the Supreme Court last week, lawyers for the Pakenham Place Shopping Centre claim the Andrews government’s acquisition of its land to build the hospital and deliver on an election promise was invalid and “irrational”.
The former Woolworths at Pakenham Place Shopping Centre has been slated to be the site of a new public hospital.Credit:Joe Armao
Labor committed to building 10 community hospitals, worth $675 million, in major growth areas such as Pakenham ahead of the 2018 election.
The outer east is bracing for a population boom. A new suburb will host 7200 homes, and this week the government unveiled the designs for two railway stations for Pakenham and Pakenham East. Works to remove level crossings will begin this year.
Revealing the station designs, Premier Daniel Andrews said on Facebook on Monday: “These upgrades won’t only reduce congestion and traffic delays in the area, but will completely rejuvenate Pakenham’s shopping and pedestrian precincts.”
The government has also forged ahead with plans to build the Pakenham Community Hospital at the shopping centre, at the site of a former Woolworths supermarket and beside the rail line.
Planning Minister Richard Wynne intervened to set aside the land in August – along with sites for the Melton, Point Cook and Torquay hospitals – allowing Health Minister Martin Foley to bypass the planning process.
Explaining his decision in a planning document, Mr Wynne said: “The delivery of the four hospitals is considered urgent and will have significant community benefit to the various areas … There is an urgency to acquire these sites to enable design and construction to commence.”
He said the landowners broadly supported the acquisition if concerns about communal car parking and design were resolved.
“Based on the consultation undertaken by [the Victorian Health Building Authority], the feedback provided, and the nature of the amendment, I consider it reasonably unlikely that further consultation through a formal planning process would result in significant changes or improvements to the amendment,” he said.
But in a motion filed for a judicial review in the Supreme Court last week on behalf of the shopping centre, Best Hooper lawyers alleged the intervention was invalid, had no legal effect and was “legally unreasonable or irrational”, in part because it was based on the assumption there was “broad support” from the owners.
The commercial owners allege they repeatedly rejected providing the specified land because it would affect the value and future development of the rest of the Pakenham Place Shopping Centre.
Banco Group and Leaf Group purchased the shopping centre last year and plan to redevelop the site into new shops.
The cost of compulsorily acquiring the land was also probably greater than assumed, it is alleged. It would require the cost of purchasing the land, plus the reduction in value of the rest of the property and compensation for tenants, Best Hooper lawyers state.
The owners had offered other neighbouring parcels of land that could be cheaper for the government, the application argues, despite traffic congestion concerns.
Cheryl Billing Smith thinks the proposed location, in the middle of a disjointed shopping centre, makes no sense.Credit:Joe Armao
The development would take pressure off the major Casey Hospital by providing chronic disease management, urgent care, specialist medical appointments and diagnostic services.
Construction is expected to begin next year, with the hospital opening in 2024.
Pakenham resident Cheryl Billing Smith, who recently ran in the Cardinia Shire local government elections, said it was nonsensical to build the hospital within a sprawling shopping centre.
“This concept of putting a hospital in the middle of all of that is beyond absolutely any comprehension of any thinking person,” Ms Billing Smith said.
She said the proposal was more of a health hub than a hospital, and the Casey Hospital had only recently been expanded.
Cardinia mayor Brett Owen said the shire supported the location because residents were calling for the “much-needed allied health services to Cardinia, which we currently do not have”.
“Any delays would be disappointing,” he said. “These services, our residents need now, as soon as possible.”
Monash Health, which declined to comment, will run the small public hospital.
Banco Group and a government spokeswoman both declined to comment while the matter is before the courts.
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