Why plans for a new cancer centre in Cardiff have divided a community

Wales' health minister has voiced her support for plans to build a controversial cancer hospital in Cardiff.

Proposals for a new centre on the Northern Meadows - fields north of Whitchurch in the city - have divided the local community, and sparked protests by campaigners.

A group called ‘Save the Northern Meadows’ protested outside the latest consultation event held by the local Trust and told ITV News they have lost trust in the authorities' handling of the process and have launched a legal challenge against the plans.

Those against the project said they have environmental concerns about the site's location and want the new hospital to be built elsewhere.

Campaigners want the hospital built elsewhere

The cost of the project is thought to be more than £550m and the plans include starting work by 2023.

The new centre will eventually replace the current Velindre facility which was built in 1956 and treats cancer patients across south east Wales. The Velindre NHS Trust reassured he local community saying "every voice will be heard" in the consultation process.

  • Clinical concerns

There are also concerns about the decision to locate the centre at a stand-alone site.

More than 160 clinicians wrote anonymously to the Welsh Government saying building the cancer centre within a hospital would "provide safer acute in-patient care, improve support from other specialties, create a better base for research and be in line with best practice elsewhere.”

They go on to say, “We are convinced that there is an opportunity to integrate existing plans for the Velindre cancer centre new-build with those for a reconfigured UHW [University Hospital of Wales]".

Artist impression of new cancer centre Credit: Velindre NHS Trust

The Velindre NHS Trust asked the Nuffield Trust, an independent health think-tank, to consider the model. The Trust said the report backs their approach and placing the site at an existing hospital "would not be an option for some considerable time".

The report said there was a need for action “to the immediate issues facing cancer services across the region, and at VCC in particular, are required now, rather than at an indeterminate point in the future.”

Health Minister Eluned Morgan told ITV News, "Of course we do need to be sensitive to the environment but what is important is to recognise that there is a huge amount of support, in particular from those who've received care in Velindre in the past. What is important is that we focus on the needs of those who are suffering from cancer at the moment."

  • Climate concerns

Campaigners also argue the project has negative environmental implications and argue the Welsh Government’s recent announcement on placing the environment at the heart of government policy should mean the scheme must not go ahead.

Following the recent Senedd election, First Minister Mark Drakeford said, “In my new government, the environment doesn’t just have a seat at the Cabinet table, it will be a consideration in all we do.”

Local resident and campaigner Ian Vincent said he is worried about the impact building on the meadows will have.

Campaigners don't want the cancer hospital built on the green space

He told ITV News, ”These areas have flooded and this is where the drainage has to come. The surface water drainage and the foul water drainage from a gigantic, unknown virtual design which has not been done.”

He denies the group is standing in the way of cancer services or that their actions could be seen as "nimbyism".

"We’re standing up for cancer patients and future generations and we don’t think this is the right place to build and we want it reviewed.”

  • What is the trust saying?

The Velindre NHS Trust said the number of people diagnosed with cancer is increasing and it needs to treat more patients "and help more people to live longer with cancer".

"The current Velindre Cancer Centre is over 65 years old and does not have the facilities or space to meet this future challenge."

"We want to work with our staff, patients and colleagues in health boards across the region to build a world-class NHS facility that will deliver unrivalled care for cancer patients across south east Wales. It will promote excellence in future cancer services and meet our expectations for environmental sustainability for today and future generations who will use it.

We need a building that sits sensitively in the landscape, respecting and enhancing the site’s biodiversity, using both low carbon materials and bioclimatic design techniques to enable it to become a place that benefits and adds social value to the local community in the short and longer term. We remain committed to developing the site as a shared asset with the local community on the basis of open, honest engagement and conversation with all our partners. Every voice will be heard.”