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RULES U-TURN OVER HOSPITAL SITE SALE; Objectors hit out at new revelations about deal.

Byline: BY MARTIN SHIPTON CHIEF REPORTER

A FORMER health authority manager and his wife could be on course to make a huge profit after crucial planning restrictions were lifted following their purchase of a former hospital estate.

In October 1999 Dr Neville Bailey, a former chief medical officer with Powys Health Authority, paid just pounds 55,000 for part of the old Mid Wales Hospital estate at Talgarth, near Brecon.

Dr Bailey's part of the site included three large detached houses, a chapel and a mortuary set in around 18 acres of land including a cricket pitch, a pavilion and a tennis court.

At the same time a company of which his wife Sheila was a director bought the rest of the estate, comprising hospital wards and associated buildings spread over 25 acres, for pounds 300,000. Mrs Bailey has since stated the slates alone are worth pounds 2m.

Within less than two years of purchase, Dr Bailey had sold two of the houses on his portion of the estate for pounds 280,000 - one to his daughter and another to a family friend. The third - and biggest - house together with the remainder of his portion were sold for pounds 55,000 to an Isle of Man-registered company of which his wife was chairman.

Mrs Bailey has ambitious job-creation plans for the site, now known as the Prya Centre.

When the hospital was put up for sale in 1999, it was made clear to potential buyers that housing would not be an acceptable use. The estate houses were for use by key workers employed on the site.

A development brief document stated: "The only form of residential use that would gain the support of the (Brecon Beacons) National Park Authority would be that which is ancillary to other uses."

Last Monday, however, the National Park's planning committee agreed to let the three houses on the estate be sold on the open market, massively increasing their value possibly to a total of pounds 1m.

The Baileys say they need the cash from these sales to finance the job-creating projects elsewhere on the estate and that they are not profiting personally from the deal.

The sale of the hospital is currently being investigated by Sir John Bourn, the Auditor General for Wales.

We have obtained written records of a private meeting between National Park planning officers and representatives of the Prya Centre that took place on November 27 last year - two weeks after the Prya Centre applied to lift the blocks on selling the houses on the open market.

It is clear from the agenda and notes of what was said that at that time planning officers were against lifting the restrictions.

Planning officer Jonathan Guscott, for example, is quoted as saying: "raising finance was again not a justification to release houses from their C2 use (meaning ancillary to employment), to do so would go against development brief and local plan policy for the area, he stated that if Prya could not create the jobs promised without selling off assets then perhaps another party could".

Yet two weeks after the meeting, planning officers told Talgarth Town Council there were no grounds for refusing the Prya Centre's application to have the blocks on open market sales of the houses lifted.

When we asked the National Park's planning chief Ian Roberts to explain the apparent U-turn, he maintained that the meeting with the Prya Centre had not centred on the issue of the houses.

Neil Bally, a leading objector to some of the Prya Centre's plans who won a right-of-way court case against it, said:

"It seems that the officers changed their mind in order to suit the developers.

"No regard was given to policy and established planning guidance or the sound development principles that the site was originally promoted and sold on.

"If other bidders had been aware that the houses could be sold on the open market, the NHS could have got much more for the whole estate than it did.

"The Prya Centre is now under no legal obligation to invest any profits it makes from selling the houses into the job-creation projects."

CAPTION(S):

CENTRE OF CONTROVERSY: The Talgarth hospital complex and (inset) Mrs Sheila Bailey
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 24, 2002
Words:706
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