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Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis stand with long term advocates for the redevelopment of Grafton Base Hospital, including Ron Bell from the Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee. Image: contributed.

Community encouraged by pre-Budget announcement

Emma Pritchard
Clarence Valley residents stood alongside members of the Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee on October 27, and together, they welcomed the announcement delivered by Deputy Premier John Barilaro.
As the words so many people had waited a long time to hear were finally spoken and a commitment of $20 million worth of funding, including the promised quarter of a billion redevelopment of Grafton Base Hospital in the upcoming budget was made clear, there was much relief and encouragement, and many more questions which followed.
Ron Bell, spokesperson for the Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee, said while everyone was “very excited and encouraged by the news,” he added the only concern was that Mr Barilaro did not give “any precise timing” regarding the redevelopment.
Despite the Deputy Premier reaffirming the NSW Government’s commitment to upgrading the premises during the current term, which has two years remaining, Mr Bell said the hospital redevelopment was “needed yesterday” and “the sooner they do it, the better.”
“The hospital redevelopment is needed now to meet the requirements of the local community,” Mr Bell said, adding the growing population is a huge incentive to get the construction work underway.
While Mr Bell conceded the funding would “have to make it’s way through the system first”, he also thought “the NSW Government would have the planning in the template.”  
“And I say that with all respect,” he added.
“We (the committee and the community) welcomed the announcement, but we’ve got to make sure the planning takes place.”
During the announcement last week, Mr Bell voiced his concerns regarding a time frame on the hospital redevelopment to the Deputy Premier and referenced the new, recently opened Ambulatory Care Centre which he said, “took 10 years from go to whoa.”
“I don’t want to see a 10-year project here (in Grafton),” Mr Barilaro quickly answered in regards to the hospital redevelopment.
When Mr Bell asked him for a commitment, the Deputy Premier responded by saying, “lets get through the planning stage and then we’ll be able to map out exactly what the stages look like and we’ll give you a timeline.”
Mr Barilaro also stated that “physical construction will start during this term of Government and if there’s ever been a time to fast-track a project, it is now.”  
During the announcement, Mr Barilaro also paid tribute to the hard-working Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis, who stood close by, and thanked him for his dedicated pursuit of funds for the redevelopment of the hospital.
Mr Bell emphasised the words spoken by Mr Barilaro, and said the committee also appreciated the efforts of the local MP.
Mr Bell also credited the “great observation” of the Deputy Premier who identified the now empty Grafton gaol opposite the hospital, as a possible site which could be utilised as part of the redevelopment.
“It could become a new car park to make hospital access easier?” Mr Bell said.
“It was very observant of him.”
After congratulating Mr Barilaro and Mr Gulaptis following the official announcement, Mr Bell said the next step is to ensure work proceeds to the construction stage and he is looking forward to seeing the first sod turned over.