A COMMUNITY chat was organised by Maria Miller MP in Basingstoke on Wednesday, March 28, to discuss the plans for the proposed new hospital at Junction 7.

Hospital minister Lord Nick Markham who attended the chat said the land for the new hospital at Junction 7 will be bought this year if the public consultation results show that M3 Junction 7 is the preferred option.

At the chat, also attended by New Hospitals programme director Natalie Forrest, the minister said the Government is in “serious negotiations” with the land owner and an initial fund of £10m has been allocated to develop plans for the new hospital.

Basingstoke Gazette: Residents attend a community chat organised by Maria Miller with Hospitals minister Lord MarkhamResidents attend a community chat organised by Maria Miller with Hospitals minister Lord Markham (Image: Sean Dillow)

The minister answered a range of questions for more than 40 minutes after a short presentation updating residents on the new approach the Government is taking to the design and build of NHS hospitals under the Hospital 2.0 programme.

READ MORE: Minister reveals plans for new Basingstoke hospital at J7

Following are excerpts of some of the questions and answers picked from the event that give an overview of the ongoing plans.

Cllr David McIntyre (Conservative): Unfortunately, politics always comes into play with Basingstoke hospital plans. What we experience here in Basingstoke and Deane particular is unwarranted sniping from the sidelines. And what my residents ask me is if this plan is going to happen in Basingstoke Junction 7.

Lord Markham: Absolutely. We have gone ahead with the consultation thinking very much with Junction 7. We are in serious negotiations with the landowner from whom we have to secure the site. We have given about £10m already so that the hospitals can develop the plans around that. That’s absolutely the intention.

I have to say this is a multi-year programme. Whatever happens with the next elections over the next 10-15 years there will be all kinds of governments and what’s vital in this is it is absolutely cross-party basis. We are in this together.

Maria Miller: People have the notion that the money is going to run out. But isn’t this a longer programme?

Lord Markham: The really exciting thing about this is we got an agreement with the Treasury. When I was at the London & Continental Railways we had five-year planning cycles on transport infrastructure projects. And we had agreements with the Treasury. We have got the same kind of agreement with the capital programme in health service. There are 2025-30 and 2030-35 programmes and so on. If we get anything like 20 per cent return, the Treasury will be knocking at our doors saying ‘Can we build some more of these please’. Because it pays back every day all year. Yes, we are starting with 40 hospitals. This will be a programme that will go on. Also, we move in five-year budget cycles. Again, we would not be spending tens of millions of pounds on developing plans and acquiring sites – we are planning to buy the site this year – if we didn’t have money to do it.

Member of the public: I’m a resident of Winchester and until a year ago a consultant at the hospital in Winchester. I have attended a number of listening events that Hampshire Together put together for this project. I’m increasingly alarmed by the terminology used particularly that this project is about delivering a hospital for Basingstoke. It’s quite clear that the listening event was actually a sham and a decision has been made that the services at Winchester, particularly acute services like maternity, will be downgraded. Can I ask how you can carry on with this new hospital project for Basingstoke when it should be a new hospital for the area?

Maria Miller: This is obviously my constituency. I’m not trying to represent Hampshire Hospitals Trust. This is an event for people of Basingstoke, but people from Winchester are welcome. But we are not trying to explain the whole public consultation. That’s finished. This is my residents who are interested in what’s the plan for my borough.

Natalie Forrest said to the resident: You’re quite right. This is about Hampshire and we are here to support the trust. We are excited about the hospital at Junction 7, but if the public consultation says otherwise, we will decide on it later. I understand that certain services at Winchester are getting consulted on. That is not for us to interfere with – that is for the trust to consult with the public. I don’t know what the outcome is. Whatever it is we will do what is right for the people of Hampshire.

Maria Miller: We shouldn’t be doing what is convenient for one group of people. These plans are put forward as best for patients. With the greatest respect, we are following what clinicians are saying.

Cllr Jay Ganesh (Conservative): As part of the consultation, the hospital trust suggested that Junction 7 is the preferred option. The trust doesn’t own the land at the moment. So what are the probabilities of materialising this plan?

Lord Markham: Very high, without jumping before the conversation has finished. If the consultation shows Junction 7 is the preferred option, we are hoping the secure the land by this summer.

Michael Howard-Sorrell (Green Party): Steve Barclay said in May 2023 that Basingstoke’s hospital would be fully funded as part of the New Hospitals Programme, and that was when we were told by Conservatives that the funding was secured. Then several months later, Natalie Forrest of the New Hospital Programme confirmed Basingstoke would no longer be fully funded by the pot of money currently available to the Programme, and no further money has been given by the Government to the Programme.

We know that you have asked hospital trust staff to reiterate their confidence in the £900m they’ve been provisionally allocated from NHS England, but we also know that the Government has not yet allocated that money to NHS England to give out to the hospital trust. The Office of Budget Responsibility has stated that no Government Departmental budgets past March next year have been written yet.

This means that if the Basingstoke hospital funding is genuinely in any way ringfenced, or secured or allocated to go to NHS England so that they can give that promised £900m to Basingstoke and the hospital trust once their business case is ready, that ring-fencing exists only verbally and in the minds of Government Ministers. Given repeated Conservative promises on this funding’s security, can the Minister please explain once and for all when the Government will put these funds into any written budget or on any piece of paper? Is it this summer? Is there a date or year or decade in mind? When will we get a legally bound document that we will get this funding? As long as it is not secured, we don’t have that money guaranteed.

Natalie Forrest: I can’t imagine I would be here if I had said that [on funding]. I may have been misinterpreted.

Lord Markham: The way the Government finance works – yes we do the annual budget, but you have long-term programmes like the aircraft carriers we build. It takes 15-20 years. Those are multi-year projects. Again we are not stupid. We don’t spend tens of millions of pounds on plots of land if we don’t know that the money is there.

Maria Miller: I think what Michael is asking is if the money is just in your imagination. So why is it that we are building an aircraft carrier in Portsmouth and people don’t ask these questions? But why are Michael and some of the councillors from Labour and the leader of the borough council asking that question about the hospital and not about the aircraft carrier?

Cllr Howard-Sorrell: If we propose an aircraft carrier for Basingstoke we will ask that question for that as well.

Maria Miller: You’re misinterpreting the way the funding works. Nobody puts it in a legally binding budget at this stage. You have the procurement stage where you tie down the project.

Lord Markham: I can assure you that for any big project, that’s not the way the Government finance works. I have got a mortgage for my house and I don’t have the money in my bank account for the next 20 years. Governments make commitments over multiple years. You only set your budget on an annual basis. We have an allocation to buy the land this year. That is in the bank account. The treasury would not be signing off funds to buy this land if they didn’t have money for the project.

Natalie Forrest: Until the hospitals do all the work, like what services they want to provide and how many beds they need, they can’t actually tell me exactly how much money they need. We have set an overarching budget. The Hospitals has to do their own business case for us to say 'Here’s your money'. Because otherwise, we might give them too much or too little.

Michael Howard-Sorrell: You’re right, we don’t understand government funding. You mentioned earlier that there’s a 2025-30 period and 2030-35 period. The funding for the first period mentioned is allocated and is going ahead. We are just curious when would that 2030-35 project will be nailed down. Can you give any particular date that phase will be allocated?

Lord Markham: The funding for 2025-30 is not allocated to each hospital. Because we don’t know the cost yet. So how the process goes through is we have an outline stage. Then it goes out to tender. We won’t know the price until it is gone out on tender. Then we go to the final business case. Then only we know the absolute price. Then that amount will be allocated to the hospital. There are hospitals that are due to be built before 2030. They are not put in a set budget right now because we don’t know exactly what they’re going to cost.

Maria Miller: We also don’t want to show our hand too much to the market. We are dealing with something which is really complicated. The last time NHS built hospitals was when our hospital was built. The NHS doesn’t have a huge amount of experience in doing this. We now know that Basingstoke is on the list of the government’s allocation for new hospitals.

Member of the public: Will the price for the land affect the funding for the hospital? The landowner must be rubbing his hands together now. They know you need the land.

Lord Markham: I'm pretty tough on these things. Without getting into details, they need us very much. We have other options. If they ask too much, we will say 'Sorry you're being unreasonable'. If we have to look at other places, we will absolutely do that.

Maria Miller: Currently there are two sites as options. The alternative option is to build at the current hospital site. But if this has to help everyone in Hampshire, it is better to be at  Junction 7.

Cllr David McIntyre (Conservative): This is the largest infrastructure investment in our borough. Unfortunately, our council leader took 10 weeks to even share the consultation, which was terrible. He came out in his column in the Gazette to talk it down, saying that there has been no communication with the Trust. What can we do as councillors to help the Trust move this hospital plan and for getting all political parties on board?

Lord Markham: We come to these meetings because it's our job to manage the project by bringing the builders on the side and the treasury on the side. Unfortunately, it is quite unusual to hear that the councillors might not be so supportive. That's the first time I have heard that. Because every place I have been to everyone wanted a local hospital.

Maria Miller: So the message from you is everyone to get behind this?

Lord Markham: 100 per cent.

(Please note that this is not a full transcript of the session and some questions could not be included)