EDDC fails to protect our community hospitals, offering specious justifications for failing to list Seaton Hospital as a ‘Community Asset’

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Jack Rowland photoOn Wednesday, Cllr Jack Rowland (right), Chair of Seaton Area Health Matters, questioned EDDC’s refusal to list Seaton Hospital as a Community Asset – which would have given Seaton Town Council, which made the request, additional grounds and time to object to any proposal for closure.

He was given the answer below. I think the reasons are specious. The guide to the Localism Act which is quoted does not claim to list all the types of buildings that can be covered, but merely gives examples. As the fact that two other Devon councils have listed hospitals shows, this is a question of interpretation. EDDC have chosen to interpret Community Assets narrowly, and then explain away the other councils’ decisions by the fact the hospitals concerned may be in relatively deprived areas, the reason North Devon gives for listing Ilfracombe – although this reason is not mentioned in the guide to the Localism Act, either!

Clearly community hospitals do, as the guide says, play a vital role in local life. … Local life would not be the same without them, and if they are closed or sold into private use, it can be a real loss to the community.” This is true regardless of how deprived the area is. Jack Rowland’s challenge has shown that once again, EDDC has defaulted to failing to protect our community hospitals.

EDDC’s ‘recorded reason’:

The main use of the property is the ‘care element’ which may be considered as furthering the social wellbeing or social interest of the community, however, this does not come within the scope of the Localism Act.

A plain English guide to the Localism Act, states:

“Every town, village or neighbourhood is home to buildings or amenities that play a vital role in local life. They might include community centres, libraries, swimming pools, village shops, markets or pubs. Local life would not be the same without them, and if they are closed or sold into private use, it can be a real loss to the community.”

In this case the nominated asset does not fall into the category of a Community Asset under s88 of the Localism Act and therefore should not be listed.

The Council believes that this interpretation of the law is correct as there is no evidence to suggest that community hospitals were in the mind of the legislator when the law was enacted. This is reinforced by the definition of ‘social interests’ in Section 88(6) of the Localism Act 2011 which states that it is, in particular, cultural, recreational or sporting interests. In addition there certainly appears to be no reference to community hospitals for example on any relevant websites. Had it been the intent of the legislator to include health care then one would have expected it to be listed in the relevant definition. It has also been confirmed that religious observance in a building does not fall within ‘social well-being’ and our view is that this is analogous to circumstances surrounding health care provision.

In the Case of North Devon Council they have helpfully published their reasoning for deciding that Ilfracombe hospital was an appropriate site to be registered under the community right to bid: https://www.northdevon.gov.uk/media/378607/decision-notice-tyrrel-hospital.pdf                                

In particular, considerable emphasis is put on the fact that Ilfracombe is an area of high deprivation and low car ownership in a rural locality. This justification has been used to justify a departure from the original legislative intention.

Teignbridge Council have not published any of their decisions but looking at the location of the relevant properties it would appear that the assets are similarly located in areas which experience the worst levels of deprivation in Devon: http://www.devonhealthandwellbeing.org.uk/jsna/overview/archive/socio-economic-deprivation/indices-of-deprivation-2015/

The same cannot be said to be the case in either Axminster, Honiton, Ottery St Mary or Seaton. In the circumstances therefore there is no justification for departing from the correct legal interpretation and any consequential risks’.

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