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Consents for the $1.47 billion project are being sought in stages and the ministry is at the beginning of stage 1 — applying for fast-track consenting for the foundations and groundworks for the two main hospital buildings and ancillary buildings.
The panel has now questioned the ministry about its planned two-pronged approach of asking for consents for the buildings at a later date.
It also warned changes that might be asked for if consents were later granted for the hospital buildings could mean the ministry had wasted taxpayer money building consented groundworks only to need to change them.
The panel gave the examples of traffic management, urban design, management of wind flow and shadowing as factors which might be questioned when the ministry applied for consents for the buildings.
"Does the applicant accept it might have wasted financial resources in building the stage 1 structures (if consented), only to find some not usable because of changes needed above ground?" the panel asked.
"... Might the applicant prefer to defer consideration of the stage 1 application at this stage, and bring both stages before a panel contemporaneously, perhaps as one single project?"
The Environmental Protection Authority, the body overseeing the application, has just released the correspondence between the independent panel deciding the application and the ministry.
In its reply, the ministry said it accepted it would have been preferable to have lodged a single consent application but design challenges, many caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, meant waiting until all plans were completed would have caused too great a delay.
"The ministry has carefully considered the implications of that delay against the risks of a staged consenting process (including the risks identified by the panel) and has determined that it will take the risk of progressing the consent in stages."
Much of the demolition work on the twin inner city sites the new hospital is intended to be built on has been completed.
The ministry still intends to open the new outpatient building in January 2025 and the larger inpatient building in April 2028.
The ministry said the state of the current hospital, which lacks surgical theatre capacity and has several buildings which are in poor condition or no longer fit for purpose, meant it needed to take urgent action to avoid compromising the health of southerners.
"Moreover, the current market conditions are such that the costs of programme delays are likely to be much more significant than the costs of any redesign work that may arise as a result of misaligned stages.
"The ministry is also mindful that this project — and the large number of jobs it will provide — are a key part of the district’s recovery from the social and economic impacts of Covid-19."
All those factors meant the ministry was committed to starting the new Dunedin Hospital project as quickly as possible and was prepared to accept the risks the panel had identified.
"That risk has been fully traversed and it is accepted that the risk of disconnection between the stages, and the financial and programme costs associated with remedying any such issues, lie with the ministry."
The panel is now awaiting comments on the hospital project from invited parties, and has received seven responses.
The deadline for further responses is Monday.