Hospital development in Watford could be 18-storeys high - making it one of the tallest buildings in Hertfordshire

Health chiefs in west Hertfordshire are currently drawing up plans to remodel and rebuild Watford General Hospital

Tuesday, 6th April 2021, 9:41 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th April 2021, 9:42 am
Health chiefs in west Hertfordshire are currently drawing up plans to remodel and rebuild Watford General Hospital

The proposed new hospital in Watford could be a towering 18 storeys high, it has emerged.

Health chiefs in west Hertfordshire are currently drawing up plans to remodel and rebuild Watford General Hospital on its existing Vicarage Road site.

And within weeks they are expected to lodge an application with Watford Borough Council for outline planning permission.

Newly published illustrations suggest the new hospital blocks could be built in three ‘finger’ blocks – with further new buildings alongside.

And now it has emerged that, in places, those ‘fingers’ could be up to 18 storeys high – making it one of the tallest buildings in Hertfordshire.

According to documents produced as part of the public consultation, the maximum height of the development could be 87 metres.

Those documents – drawn-up by architects and the West Herts Hospitals Trust – suggest the ‘civic nature of the proposed WGH development justifies its visibility in the Watford skyline’.

And they say it offers the benefit of creating ‘a new landmark building’ viewed in the context of the regeneration of the wider ‘Riverwell development’.

But campaigners – who have pushed for the development of a purpose-built hospital on a greenfield site – have been quick to express concerns.

St Albans resident Andy Love, from the New Hospital Campaign, says he is concerned by the sheer height of the blocks, which he says are more akin to high rise office blocks.

He says the design proves that the site is not big enough for the necessary development.

And he says the height – combined with the ‘seemingly narrow space’ between the blocks – could bring additional risks, should the hospital need to be evacuated.

“The risk of having to evacuate the entire hospital, should a new emergency and specialist care services hospital be built on a new and more spacious site, would be much lower,” said Mr Love.

He also suggests that the concentration of the build in the tower blocks will extend the construction time – suggesting that a new-build hospital on a greenfield site would be quicker.

But WHHT hospitals redevelopment programme director Duane Passman says the construction would be just as quick.

And he says the tower block design will make it easier for patients and staff to navigate their way around – cutting the distances they have to walk between departments.

“It’s going to be a tall building – its going to be one of the taller buildings in Hertfordshire,” said Mr Passman.

“[…] There’s no getting away from it. It is going to be a taller building – but that has advantages as well.”

Mr Passman says that if a hospital this size was limited to just three storeys high it would run for a third of a mile.

And he estimates it would then take older patients 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other.

But instead the tower block design – which will be fitted with a number of intelligent lifts – will mean it takes just a few minutes to get anywhere in the hospital.

And Mr Passman stresses that he has every confidence that the architects will produce ‘landmark’ designs.

“Good design is right at the heart of what we are trying to do,” he said.

Addressing concerns about evacuation, he stresses that the blocks are 17 metres apart – making it unlikely a fire would jump between blocks.

He says evacuation procedures and safety are an important part of the design process.

And he says a ‘compartment’ design would contain any fire in an area – roughly half the size of a ward – for up to two hours.

“Fire requirements in hospital buildings are very tough,” he said. “And we don’t play with people’s lives.”

According to the consultation document the 120,000msq hospital development – which will include ‘healing courtyards’ – would improve the health and well-being of the local and wider population.

It would, it says, create further employment opportunities and will create ‘ a pleasant place and a strong local identity for the hospital and community’.

It would be expected, it says, to include methods of sustainable construction and operation, to contribute to the NHS target of net zero carbon by 2040 – with reference to heat pumps, solar panels, maximising daylight and ‘greening’ features.

According to the consultation document the highest point of the development to the north could be 18 storeys (87m) – dropping to 13 storeys (66m) to the south.

And, it says, there are plans to submit the outline planning application to Watford Borough Council in the Spring (2021).