SA Police get $2m to plan Thebarton barracks exit

The state government will give SA Police $2 million to plan a move out of the historic Thebarton barracks after announcing the heritage-listed site will be cleared to make way for the new $3 billion Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

Sep 27, 2022, updated Sep 27, 2022
Part of the heritage Thebarton barracks site. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Part of the heritage Thebarton barracks site. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

In a statement today, Police Commissioner Grant Stevens welcomed the government’s decision to build the hospital at the site that SA Police has occupied for 105 years and houses its mounted police greys and dog operations units.

Police horses outside Thebarton barracks. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

“This announcement creates a unique opportunity for SAPOL to consider its operational needs and work with affected staff, stakeholders and the government to acquire modern, fit for purpose facilities that will meet organisational needs well into the future,” he said.

The Thebarton police barracks is located on previously vacant park lands and was gifted to SA Police in 1917, with construction on the original buildings completed that year.

According to the SA Police Historical Society, the site is an “important facility for a broad range of police functions in the delivery of policing services to the community of South Australia”.

Building the hospital at the barracks would involve demolishing 10 police buildings – some of which date back to 1917 and were added to the state’s heritage list in 1985.

SA Police said in a statement that it would be handed $2 million to complete the planning work to relocate out of the barracks.

It said the government had also made a commitment that there would be no loss of operational capability as a result of the relocation.

The government this morning announced it had decided to abandon previous plans to build the new hospital on the railyards site immediately west of the Royal Adelaide Hospital, saying it was too small, had no room for expansion and would force the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit to be disjoined from other care services.

It decided to instead build the hospital at the barracks site following a review conducted by former state coordinator-general Jim Hallion, who considered six potential locations within the city’s biomedical precinct.

That review found the 20,000 square-metre barracks site is twice as big as the railyards site and would allow the government to build a bigger hospital with 56 more beds and “built in capacity” for an additional 20 beds, taking the proposed hospital’s total capacity to 414 beds – 76 more than the existing hospital at North Adelaide.

Special legislation required to fast-track project

The government wants to start early works at the site next year ahead of an anticipated opening in 2030-31, with special legislation to be introduced before the end of this year to allow it to fast-track the planning process.

Premier Peter Malinauskas told reporters this morning that the Thebarton site had already been rezoned to a health site but only for two-storey buildings.

The new proposed hospital would be nine to ten storeys tall.

“If we get this legislation through the parliament the likelihood of realising the 2031 timeline dramatically escalates and in turn it actually represents a better outcome for taxpayers too because every month that goes past the escalation cost becomes greater,” Malinauskas said.

“It will be legislation that seeks to expedite the process so we look forward to the discussions that we will have with both the Opposition and the cross bench in due course to make sure they understand all of the issues that we are discussing…

“But there is going to be a clear choice here for everybody in the parliament to make. Do you choose political expediency? Or do you choose the long-term interests of the health system, particularly women and children.

“It is going to be a binary choice.”

Premier Peter Malinauskas addressing the media at today’s press conference. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Malinauskas said if the legislation is passed, it would enable the government to bring forward the construction timeline and reduce the costs.

“And importantly it means we have our clinicians and our patients in a better facility sooner and that matters because the current site is old – it is outdated,” he said.

“We are spending an extra $30.3 million on it now just to keep people’s head above water.”

The Opposition has not yet said whether it would support the legislation, with Liberal leader David Speirs saying the party was awaiting a briefing.

“We don’t know the detail of the planning legislation or rules that need to be waived to facilitate that,” he said.

“World-class healthcare and the provision of a high-quality Women’s and Children’s Hospital was clearly a very significant priority under the previous government, so that is something that we will look at.

“But, at the same time, we don’t want to stamp all over the rights and opportunities of South Australians to be engaged on this project.”

Speirs said the previously proposed railyards site was “shovel ready” and “ticked off by major, independent infrastructure bodies at state level”.

He denied that the railyards site was too small to allow the hospital to expand, saying there were expansion plans built into the agreements signed by the previous government.

“All I can say is, we were very confident that our site for the Women’s and Children’s Hospital was adequate and would have delivered a world-class service,” he said.

The crossbench, whose support the government may need to rely on to get the legislation passed the upper house, remains divided.

SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros said her party would support “the necessary legislation” to allow the hospital to be built on the barracks site.

She said she would prioritise the health and wellbeing of babies and women above heritage.

“SA-BEST’s commitment from today to the taxpayers of South Australia is ensuring the government is held to account to ensure the hospital is built on time and on budget and that the Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s s once world-renowned reputation is restored,” she said.

“If we can build a hotel at the Adelaide Oval among the parklands there, we can build a world’s best practice, state of the art hospital on the site of the current police barracks.”

But Greens MLC Robert Simms predicted the government would face “one hell of a fight in parliament” to get the legislation passed the upper house.

“We haven’t seen any legislation from the government but I’m very concerned that this will set an alarming precedent for future heritage listed sites,” he said.

“The Greens will be doing everything we can to ensure our iconic buildings and parklands are protected. 

“There’s a lot of vacant land in the city, the government should be focussing their attention there – rather than razing heritage buildings.

“It makes a mockery of the whole heritage protection process.

One Nation MLC Sarah Game said “in all government decision-making, I firmly believe children should be front of mind”.

“While I am yet to be briefed on the details of today’s new WCH announcement, more treatment spaces for children is clearly positive news,” she said.

“A few aspects concern me, including the significant overspend from what was previously budgeted, the almost-decade long construction time, whether this is the absolute best location for the hospital, and what precedent this sets for South Australia’s other heritage places.”

Clinicians welcome project

The new hospital will include a four-bed adult intensive care unit as well as a ‘hot floor’ of critical care services on one level, including birthing, theatres, paediatric ICU and neonatal ICU, which the former site could not accommodate because of its smaller size.

Dr Laura Willington, medical head of the women’s anaesthesia unit at the WCH, said “today is an exciting day for the women of South Australia”.

She said the inclusion of a four-bed adult intensive care unit had been “a long time coming”.

“By putting four of these adult women’s intensive care beds within the hospital that will mean we won’t need to move them to the RAH,” she said.

“We should be able to provide all the care they need within that site so that will eliminate that need for ambulance transfers or to have the air bridge transfer (of other proposals).

“It means that we will be able to provide care for high-risk women at this hospital which we previously can’t do as we don’t have (adult) intensive care facilities.”

Dr Laura Willington at today’s press conference. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Willington also said the ‘hot floor’ combining critical care services on one level was a major positive.

“Meaning women who are critically ill do not need to be transported over long distances or particularly put in a lift and moved between floors is a very exciting proposition,” she said.

Sina Amabili, divisional nursing director of surgical services, said it was reassuring “to know that we’re all going to be on the ‘hot floor’ together and that our women who could be the sickest and their babies who are the sickest are going to be close together…”

Dr Subodh Ganu, medical head of the paediatric intensive care unit, also supported the new hospital.

“We certainly welcome the expansion ideas and also being able to accommodate the footprint for all the critical services,” he said.

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