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Architects call for WCH site inquiry, suggest three other locations

South Australia’s peak architect body has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the state government’s push for a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital on the Police Barracks site, saying major building projects should “not be fast-tracked to suit political cycles and agendas”.

Nov 10, 2022, updated Nov 10, 2022
The Women's & Children's Hospital planned for the heritage-listed Thebarton barracks site. Image supplied: State Govt

The Women's & Children's Hospital planned for the heritage-listed Thebarton barracks site. Image supplied: State Govt

Legislation which fast-tracks planning and approvals processes to demolish 10 police buildings on the state heritage-listed Thebarton Police Barracks to build a new $3.2 billion Women’s and Children’s Hospital passed parliament’s upper house last week.

Ahead of a vote in the lower house, the SA chapter of the Australian Architects Institute has reignited calls for a parliamentary committee to scrutinise the development.

Chapter president Anthony Coupe said it was likely that rezoning the Thebarton Police Barracks could fast-track its demolition before the true impact of the development was understood.

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

He said building projects should “not be fast-tracked to suit political cycles and agendas”, warning the associated impact of reconstructing Port Road Bridge appeared to be “poorly considered”.

“We believe this and other issues should be examined properly with a parliamentary inquiry before work starts on this flawed site,” he said.

“How can we proceed with confidence given the significant questions that remain and the impact that the project will have on both state and nationally-listed heritage?

“It would be a terrible shame to demolish state-listed buildings and to compromise the park lands before we even know if the project is viable as currently proposed.”

The Architects’ Institute suggested that the government instead build the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital at the old Coca-Cola or West End factories opposite Bonython Park, or at the 28,000 square-metre former Australia Post site bounded by Grote, Gouger and Blenheim Streets.

Despite criticising the chosen site for the hospital, the institute said it supported the construction and design opportunities that the project would create, as well as the longer-term public health and social benefits.

Lord Mayoral candidate Rex Patrick, Greens MLC Robert Simms and Opposition Leader David Speirs have also called for a parliamentary inquiry into the project, citing concerns about the impact on heritage and the park lands.

The government last week blocked a Greens amendment in the upper house to establish such an inquiry with the support of SA Best and One Nation MLC Sarah Game.

At the time, Health Minister Chris Picton argued the development would be scrutinised by the parliament’s public works committee.

He said the plan, which adds an additional 56 overnight beds to the previously proposed hospital, had received “overwhelming support” from clinicians.

The government has said that it would restore more than 30,000 square-metres of currently blocked-off land at the barracks site to be available as accessible parklands for the community.

The legislation will now come before the lower house, where the government has a majority to ensure the bill successfully passes.

The hospital’s completion has been pushed out to 2030-31.

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