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Surprise move to protect Shaftesbury hospital stalls

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A surprise attempt by Shaftesbury Town Council to protect Westminster Memorial Hospital from sale or redevelopment by getting it put on the register of ‘assets of community value’ unexpectedly stalled last night, 29 May, after a last-minute intervention by a town councillor.

The motion to have the hospital protected was proposed by deputy mayor Councillor Lester Taylor, a supporter of the Save Our Beds! campaign, but he told councillors at an extraordinary meeting of the town council that Councillor Anthony Austin had told him just before the start of the meeting that ‘the NHS’ had asked the council not to go ahead with the idea.

Councillor Austin, who had seconded the motion originally, confirmed that he had been asked ‘by the NHS’ not to proceed with the idea but he did not say who had asked him or why ‘the NHS’ wanted to delay things other than that they were ‘concerned’ about it.

Councillor Tim Cook objected that the matter was not one for the NHS and asked that the council went ahead with its plan regardless.

Councillor Taylor pointed out that putting a community asset on the ‘valued’ register at North Dorset District Council did not guarantee protection but it gave local communities a right to be consulted and six months to come up with their own solution including finding the funds to buy the asset for community use.

But in the end the council agreed to defer the matter for further discussion at the council’s general management committee on 26 June.

After the meeting Councillor Austin, who chairs the council’s working group on the hospital, refused to say who he had spoken to in the NHS or where or how they had come to know about the council’s proposal.

But in response to a query from Gillingham & Shaftesbury News the head of engagement and communications at Dorset CCG Pauline Malins said: ‘Dorset CCG, Dorset HealthCare and other local partners are keen to ensure that any proposals in relation to the Westminster Memorial Hospital site are fully understood and discussed by the organisations concerned and, importantly, by the SGSWWS [community] reference group.

‘We have asked if Shaftesbury Town Council would defer discussing the proposal to register the hospital as a “community asset of value” because we feel there is not currently enough information or a clear understanding of the possible impact. We would much prefer that this information is available to everyone before there is a debate and vote.

‘At the time of the statement we didn’t know what the potential impact of the WMH site being registered as a community asset might have on future health plans. We now have the opportunity to find out and for it to inform future discussions with the reference group. We are pleased with that.’

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