Image courtesy of the National Paediatric Hospital Project

Part of the plan to build the new National Children’s Hospital at St James’ Hospital is to make sure local residents benefit from the thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of euro set to pour into Dublin 8.

An Bord Pleanala finally gave planning permission for the project late last month. Some local residents raised concerns about the project, particularly in relation to traffic and the construction phase.

But some of the community got behind the project, because there was a lot to gain too.

Entrances to the campus at James’ Street and the Rialto Luas stop will get face-lifts, and locals will have access to some of the hospital’s new gardens.

A programme to maximise the hospital’s benefit for the local area is being rolled out, with an aim of rejuvenating Dublin 8.

On a deeper level, locals stand to gain everything from education and employment, to an improvement in health from the urban regeneration the new hospital is expected to set into motion, according to the board of the project.

“By building community benefit into the way we operate, it means a much more equitable and sustainable regeneration,” said Ingrid McElroy, the community benefits programme manager.

Employment Opportunities

Speaking before councillors at Dublin City Council’s South Central Area Committee last month, McElroy outlined the programme for community benefit. Much of it focused on local employment.

Referring to research published by Harvard Business School, she described hospitals as anchor institutions.

They’re important for urban renewal and regeneration because they don’t tend to move, she said. Independent councillor Vincent Jackson described them as “recession proof”.

An independent report published by consultants Ernst & Young in November outlined the opportunities the project could create for the local community. The programme is based off this information.

The report estimated that building the new hospital will create 2,300 jobs during the four-year construction phase. And it stated that 3,700 staff will be employed at the new hospital, in addition to the 4,000 people who already work on the St James’ Hospital campus.

Joe Donohue is a team leader with Fatima Groups United, and a member of the hospital’s community benefits oversight group. He strongly supported the hospital’s location in Dublin 8, because of the opportunities he believes it will create for the area.

He’s delighted with An Bord Pleanala’s decision. “It’s really given the place a real lift,” he says. “Now it’s about implementing those commitments given by the National Children’s Hospital in relation to community benefit.”

He thinks the hospital could have a transformative effect on the Liberties.

McElroy did say they’ll try to maximise direct employment, especially from the locality.

She also assured councillors that all construction employees will be paid trade-union-approved rates. “That’s actually stated in the tender,” she said.

Bound by Contracts

Some councillors highlighted the fact that similar promises were made before as part of state projects, but that the jobs for the community never materialised.

But Donohue sees the Ernst & Young report commissioned by the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board as a strong indication that it is committed to providing community gain.

McElroy told councillors that community benefit clauses would be built into the construction tenders, making them legal requirements.

Contractors will have to nominate community-benefits officers, and explain how they will engage with the local community as part of their tender.

Benefits for Businesses

In addition to local workers, local businesses might also benefit from the new development.

The National Paediatric Hospital Development Board has set up a liaison committee to allow small businesses to tender, says Stephen Coyne, programme coordinator of the Liberties Business Area Improvement Initiative.

“There is a whole infrastructure in place to try and keep business local as much as is possible,” Coyne said.

Construction contractors must engage with businesses in the area to try open up the procurement supply chain to them. And the main contractor will have to host “meet the buyer” events as well.

The community benefits oversight group will ensure that small businesses are shown how to put together tender, and will assist in splitting tenders into smaller lots for their benefit.

This process could prove difficult though, because the HSE has moved toward centralised procurement.

The Liberties Business Forum also welcomes the new hospital and the board’s commitment to support local business.

Independent retailers and cafés in the area might not be immediately impacted by the new hospital, but the board estimates that there will be 10,000 staff and visitors passing through the hospital every day once it opens.

The business forum also hopes that bio-medical companies will be enticed to set up in the area, because of its proximity to what will become a cluster of medical facilities.

A Children’s Research and Innovation Centre located on James’ Street also received the go-ahead from An Bord Pleanala last month. And the master plan for the campus features a maternity hospital.

The forum hopes that a life sciences quarter for the city might develop around the St James’ campus and the children’s hospital has already floated this concept with the IDA, says Coyne.

Educational Benefits

The Ernst & Young report found that most of the secondary schools in the area are classed as disadvantaged.

In order to make the most of employing the local workforce, the oversight group included training opportunities and informing students about potential careers as parts of their community-gain action plan.

“We very much intend to work closely with schools . . . in terms of opening people’s eyes up to the myriad of professions there are,” said McElroy.

It’s unlikely to occur to a schoolchild that they want to be a radiographer unless they know one, she says, the aim is simply to raise awareness.

When Will the Jobs Come?

A workforce plan is currently underway so that the hospital can determine exactly what staff it needs.

But the community benefits oversight group has already completed a skills audit of the community and identified the supports necessary to get as many locals into work as possible.

Using this research, it put together a plan to target residents of the Dublin 8 and Dublin 12 areas.

Construction contractors will recruit people in long-term unemployment through Intreo and the Local Employment Service. While young people will be recruited through Youthreach and community training workshops.

And if contractors say interviewees aren’t skilled enough, they’ll be trained up through Solas and the City of Dublin Education and Training Board.

The National Paediatric Hospital Development Board already already did some briefing sessions in schools, discussing work experience in the construction sector and future job opportunities in health.

More sessions are also planned for the coming months and the board intends to set up a mentoring programme, said a spokesperson for the board. And this might include supporting local students through third level education.

The development is moving along quickly now. The first contract for enabling works has been tendered and is expected to start in July. The main contractors have been shortlisted and should start work before the year is out.

Jobs opportunities for local residents will be available once contractors are appointed and details on how to apply will be posted on the hospital’s website in the next few weeks.

“Most importantly, when the hospital is built, people will be required to service the hospital, from catering right through to nursing and doctors,” Donohue says.

The state is planning to invest €650 million to get the hospital in working order. The old hospital and the new hospital are estimated to have a combined operating budget of €550 million annually too meaning long term investment for the area.

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