Sell-off fury

THE Lambert Hospital in Thirsk has closed and we have to accept that sad fact. However, the building and site, which were donated to the community, occupy a prime position for the future health-care development of this rapidly expanding town.

During the “consultation” process which led to the hospital closure we were led to believe, by the local clinical commissioning group, that the building would become a primary care /community hub, as mentioned in their document “Transforming our Communities.”

We objected to the closure of our beloved cottage hospital, but now complain much more strongly having just learnt that the site is to be sold for private residential accommodation, not exactly the “transformation” we were led to expect. This is a disgraceful short-term approach, akin to selling off the family silver.

The local general practices are desperate for more space, including that needed for parking, and have this prime Lambert site between them, all very near to the town centre.

It may well be that it is currently unaffordable to redevelop the old hospital site, but to sell it as real estate to avoid short-term costs is sheer folly. The profit (sale price some £400,000) will go, via NHS Property Services, to central NHS funds, and will not be used locally - and even if it were is a relatively small sum in the local NHS budget.

The obvious solution is to mothball the building until such time, in the very near future, that the site can be developed into the health-hub the CCG verbally promised. The cost of maintenance, including such items as insurance, rates, and frost-stat heating, would be a mere fraction of that involved in maintaining the Lambert as the working hospital we knew.

The CCG have successfully reduced their annual expenditure, but for them to tell NHSPS that the site is superfluous to local health-care requirements is ridiculous, and must be challenged.

Unfortunately, there is no statutory requirement for public consultation before their decision to dispose of this valuable asset, and we can only hope (and fully expect) that our elected representatives forcefully present our views to the CCG, who could then openly debate the matter in public, and in Thirsk.

When the local electorate learn of the underhand sale (via a Leeds estate agent, in conjunction with Harrogate architects, yet without any local advertisement) they will quite understandably be displeased, and this anger is already beginning to surface.

We therefore request that our local political representatives approach the CCG and with some urgency, so that the sale is blocked until the matter has been properly debated.

Dr John Garside, Thirsk

Ward closures

I WELCOME your considered and balanced report (D&S Times, Nov 3) on the changes for mental health services in Hambleton and Richmondshire.

While I understand people concerns about the mental health ward closures at the Friarage Hospital, can I offer the perspective of a patient which I hope your readers will find illuminating.

Twenty years ago, after a lifetime of suffering from what everyone thought were just pronounced mood swings, I was diagnosed as suffering from manic depression. Today it goes by the description bi-polar.

I was treated with a combination of drugs and therapies and thankfully I emerged from a dark period of my life with my spirits restored and my life and career back on track.

My treatment was very good and I will always be grateful for the care I received. However, one aspect of my treatment was wholly inappropriate and I, and my family, are sure it delayed my progress. I was admitted to hospital.

While obviously in a poor state of mind I acutely recall what I felt was the shame of being admitted to a mental health ward. I wasn’t physically ill. I didn’t need to be in a bed. Why was I there?

I hated being on a mixed ward with all age groups. It all just added to my low mood and confusion.

Yes, I was in desperate need of treatment but I didn’t need to be on a hospital ward, away from my family and the familiar surroundings of home to receive that treatment. It definitely held back my recovery.

That’s why I welcome the overdue move to providing more mental health services in the community as outlined by the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys Trust and supported by the local clinical commissioning group.

I do understand that some patients who, because they may be a danger to themselves or others, will need to be admitted but they are in a minority.

Yes, it would have been ideal to have retained some inpatient beds at the Friarage but I for one would not want to see the development of excellent community mental health services held back by what I understand is poor quality accommodation in Northallerton.

Can I commend the approach of our local MP Rishi Sunak on this issue. I think he is one of few who have taken the trouble to really understand how mental health services need to develop and has resisted knee-jerk responses which can be summarised as “save-the-Friarage- beds/this-is-closure-of-the-hospital-by-stealth.” It’s not about that. It’s not about money. It’s about the best treatment.

Quite rightly Mr Sunak says the task now is make sure the Trust delivers fully on the new community mental health services. All I can say is that I wish this treatment approach had been adopted when I was ill 20 years ago.

Edward Harden, Catterick Garrison.

Dales bus

ON November 4 I got the last Little White Bus back from Ripon. A young woman came running across the road as we stopped in Bedale to drop off and pick up passengers. She had caught a train at 8.30am in Doncaster and, having got off at Northallerton, hopped onto the No. 73 bus to Bedale. Having previously looked up times on the website she expected to be able to get from there to her final destination, Hawes, by public transport.

On asking at the bus stop in Bedale, someone told her the Saturday service to Leyburn had finished so she very wisely went to the TIC for help. They reassured her there was one last bus and she was in time to catch it. How lucky can you get? Can you imagine her sense of relief? I wonder how many other visitors to upper Wensleydale will now find themselves stranded in Bedale if they come on a Saturday?

When Dales and District stopped running services that weren’t commercial the Little White Bus was invented and funded by North Yorkshire County Council. I had understood they were to be used to fill in the gaps in everyday transport up and down both Swaledale and Wensleydale. We did envisage problems with

16-seater minibuses driven by volunteers in the summer months with extra visitors to the area - and we were proved right. People were left at bus stops because a second bus could not be provided. I heard of such an instance in Reeth during the recent half-term week.

Far from filling the gaps in regular services in the lower dales the LWB, having dropped the Ripon route, is now taking on a weekly trip to Teesside Park. It also goes twice a week to Barnard Castle. Neither of these can be said to serve Leyburn and lower Wensleydale as they go from Richmond. I also understand that it is cutting a late afternoon return run between Leyburn and Bedale on Monday to Friday as well.

I could be forgiven for thinking that these buses are in service purely for residents of the upper dales and Hawes in particular. Any services from Leyburn have failed to be advertised so no wonder the bus to Ripon was rarely full, although there were passengers using it regularly.

There has to be a solution to this problem of lack of public transport as before long elderly residents who do not drive a car are going to be cut off completely from the hospital, the railway station, their bank and other things which smaller communities do not have but Northallerton can provide.

Sheila Simms, Leyburn

Brexit secrecy

YOUR correspondent Michael Thomsett (D&S Times, Nov 3) refers to the secrecy over plans for Brexit. The Prime Minister keeps telling us she wants a good deal for Britain, but there are 27 other countries in the negotiations, and they are unlikely to want a good deal for Britain, but rather want to discourage others from leaving.

It seems quite possible that there was never a majority for Brexit in the population as a whole, as complacency by remainers predicted to win, lack of clarity concerning the issues, mischievous claims, groups excluded such as 16 to 17s and the effect of the right-wing press all played a part in last year’s referendum. Some of us remember the 1992 General Election result and the bold headline next morning “It’s the Sun wot won it!”

Opinion polls now, with inflation, devaluation, shortage of seasonal farm workers and of NHS applicants from other EU countries and threats to jobs, are increasingly in favour of remain. So the PM’s team is negotiating in an unfavourable environment, egged on by right-wingers in her cabinet. As a result she needs to avoid unfavourable reaction by maintaining secrecy, and avoiding a second referendum which she would be in danger of losing.

But the issue is more important than even the 1992 General Election result. Comparisons with Switzerland and Norway are misleading, as they never joined the EU. The only country to leave after being a member is Greenland.

Jim Robinson, Morton-on-Swale

Democracy ignored?

TREVOR Nicholson (D&S Times, Oct 27) suggests those of us who continue to support the Remain cause fail to accept democracy. I would remind Mr Nicholson that democracy is a process, not a moment in time.

Leave (very narrowly) won the 2016 referendum with a mandate for leaving the EU, but Mrs May failed to win a mandate for her “Hard” Brexit in this year’s general election.

The tide of public opinion is changing and if Leavers are so convinced they have won the argument, why do they resist calls for a second referendum to consider the final agreement between Mrs May’s team and the EU? There are after all several options for leaving the EU, which points to the folly of trying to reduce the argument to a simple yes/no answer in the first place.

It was none other than Mrs Thatcher who noted that a referendum “is a device of dictators and demagogues.” As it stands, the proposed Great Repeal Act will greatly subvert democracy and debate by giving ministers the power to amend legislation without any debate or scrutiny. This will apply to EU legislation which was introduced only after it had been considered by our own Parliamentarians in Westminster.

Dr Andrew Newens, Darlington

Path promise

ONE of Hambleton District Council’s stated priorities is to “Improve the health and wellbeing of people by providing and supporting community inclusive facilities, activities, events and interventions”. All well and good but it would seem their planning department is not aware of this priority in relation to the provision of foot and cycle paths in new developments.

The estate of 400-plus houses that has been built on the former York Trailer site on Yafforth Road still does not have its promised footpath into the town centre and the only alternative for walking into town is by either walking along the verge of the very busy Yafforth Road or by crossing it twice, without the aid of any form of pedestrian crossing. The new roundabout on the Stokesley Road, part of the North Northallerton Development Plan, has been open to vehicle traffic since October16 but the footpath is still closed and the contractors have not been on site since.

The footpath along Stokesley Road was a very popular walking and running route but has now been closed since mid-March when the roadworks started. When I enquired of both the district and county councils when the path was likely to be reopened no-one could tell me and clearly had little or no interest in getting it reinstated.

So how is it that HDC does not ensure that its planning department implements its own priorities by ensuring that “community inclusive facilities” such as footpaths are built or reinstated in a timely fashion, in this case at the same time as the roundabout? On investigation the footpath alongside the new roundabout on the Darlington Road is in the same state. If this footpath was on private land the landowner would be required to reinstate it within three weeks of completing any works which required its closure.

The HDC planning department does not have a particularly good reputation and in my opinion this is yet another example of their ineptness and lack of detailed planning.

Robert Carter, Brompton, Northallerton

Shops fears

RECENT letters have been raising doubts over the plans for the development of the prison site behind Northallerton High Street.

As a frequent visitor to the wonderfully wide and spacious High Street, I too have been concerned about the growing number of empty shops. I worry that further development of the prison site will increase this problem.

The future of shopping in the 21st-century is changing High Streets around the country forever. Northallerton needs be innovative and - at the same time - preserve its heritage, if it wants to retain its position as one of the most attractive places to shop in the North-East.

On-line shopping is becoming a serious threat to every High Street and shops must try to match the choice, bargain prices and home-delivery convenience of the internet if they are to survive. Councils must help them by lobbying the Government to keep business rates low. Importantly, they must listen to the concerns and ideas of the local shopkeepers and their customers.

Northallerton is blessed with beautiful buildings, but when shops are empty the facades soon deteriorate. The High Street is beginning to look shabby in some places.

The dangerous effect of another shopping outlet, being built away from the High Street, is obvious. Retail outlets away from the centre of a town drain life out of the High Street and shops struggle to survive. This is especially true for the unique, smaller specialist shops. This is a sad fact and it can be observed in many of our local towns.

Is it too late for Northallerton?

I do hope not, but I am worried for this much-loved and very special High Street.

Terence Fleming, Guisborough

Railway future

THERE has been a great deal of publicity about the Wensleydale Railway over the past few months. Some has been critical, especially regarding the decision to sell Aysgarth Station. However, there are many good things going on at present and planned for the future, including plans to extend the railway westwards from Redmire towards Aysgarth.

On November 15, in Northallerton Town Hall, there will be an informal open day from 9am until 3pm, where people can talk with railway volunteers and staff, buy tickets for the Santa Specials, etc. Please come along and hear first-hand about these plans.

You may want to ask about the award of first prize in the museums award for heritage/education for Scruton Station, or the recent Lottery award which will completely restore the Station House there. You can hear about the ways we are going to increase steam services over the coming years and offer a more flexible service by double-tracking the line at Leyburn and building a railway footbridge for observation purposes. Or perhaps how the expensive requirement to upgrade our three automatic level crossings is going to be achieved, with the necessary track repairs to be able to restore services to Northallerton West..

Philip Smith, Northallerton

Hospital thanks

MY husband spent ten days in the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton recently after a fall. The care and attention from all the staff in the various departments was wonderful.

We are very thankful that we have such an excellent facility in our area and long may it continue to give such good service. The follow up afterwards has also been excellent and very helpful.

Mary Boardman, Great Ayton

True confessions

I ONCE winked at a girl on a bus when I was 16-years-old. Should I turn myself in?

Michael Matson, Lastingham