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Use £2bn of NHS land for new health facilities and housing, says senior government adviser

£2bn of NHS land must be developed and used to build new health facilities rather than simply being sold off for housing, a senior government adviser has told Construction News.

Sir Robert Naylor, the government tsar for NHS property and estates, said the drive to use NHS land more efficiently would provide opportunities for the construction sector.

Sir Robert is working on a national strategy for the use of NHS property, with a report expected in September.

He said: “We need to develop the land to create additional value for the NHS. That might be in terms of new buildings, or residential accommodation for key workers such as hospital staff.”

Primary care facilities, such as GP surgeries, would be particularly needed in future due to the move to deliver more care outside of hospitals, Sir Robert added.

The Treasury has told the NHS to raise £2bn from assets over five years to make way for 26,000 homes.

But Sir Robert said: “That doesn’t mean we’re going to sell £2bn of land. What it means is we have to develop £2bn of land.”

The money does not have to come in the form of cash savings, he clarified, adding that redevelopments that reduce backlog maintenance costs could also contribute to the target.

Sir Robert is also University of College London Hospitals Foundation Trust chief executive, although he is stepping down later this year. His appointment as a government adviser was announced in February.

Alongside the national review, he is working on ways to make better use of NHS land in London, and said this would focus on half a dozen projects that have got “stuck in the system”, citing the example of Moorfields Eye Hospital.

Moorfields considered building a new hospital on its current site, which it has occupied since 1899, as revealed by Construction News in 2013.

However, following a consultation, it decided to move to a new site instead.

Its current site was placed on the market in March and it is hoping to move to the King’s Cross and Euston area by 2023.

The hospital trust deferred £6.9m from its capital funds last year, as part of efforts by the Department of Health to avoid breaching its spending limits, Construction News’ sister magazine Health Service Journal reported in May.

Sir Robert said Moorfields’ move depended on another NHS site finding additional space elsewhere.

NHS organisations often do not have the necessary in-house expertise to move their complex redevelopment schemes forward, he said.

He is looking at whether estates advice could be brought back in-house, so that organisations planning to redevelop sites could seek advice from experts working for a “central organisation” rather than go outside the NHS to professionals who “might be seeking to develop and acquire their property”.

Sir Robert also called for a “stronger national organisation” to oversee the implementation of NHS estates plans.

Last week it was reported that the NHS plans use surplus land to build 22,000 affordable homes for health workers.

Sir Robert responded: “From my perspective, if the intention is to attract staff to high-cost areas, then it makes no sense to sell affordable homes to staff if they are free to leave the NHS at any time.”

His report is due to cover this in more detail.

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