Phase one of the detailed business case has been approved after almost a year’s work and the Southern partnership Group is now focussed on master site planning, according to convenor Pete Hodgson.

"Completing the thick end of the detailed business case is a relief and a bit of a milestone. We don’t expect people to be dancing in the streets but getting it done is important.

"We will be asking Cabinet for a lot of money. Cabinet will be expecting a commensurately comprehensive business case. We will now tuck it away for a few months then dust it off at the conclusion of phase two, and update it just before we go to Cabinet to seek the formal investment decision in the first half of next year.

"In the meantime, we will be proceeding apace with the master site planning and simultaneously with quietly building our project management capability. The Master site planning will be completed at the end of October.

"We will then have a better idea of what building goes where, as well as any bad and good impacts that those buildings will have on the neighbourhood and on each other. That will in turn mean that when it comes time for planning approval we will be able to offer a well informed and accurate case."

Mr Hodgson said that he felt the biggest challenge to getting the hospital built on time was gaining access to enough skilled labour.

‘We have seen Auckland and Christchurch struggle. We are trying to build the largest ever hospital project in a smallish city. So, we need to collaborate to pull a few tricks that other centres have not yet managed.’

‘We know that not having enough skills is our biggest risk and we are intent on addressing it. We have multiple workstreams underway, but the most attractive of them all is simply to have more homegrown skills up and ready.

"That can change the lives of many people, especially younger people, and will obviously be a better bet for contractors than importing labour. We have been engaging with quite a large sample of local construction industry players in recent weeks. There is a sense that if we do a bit of planning well in advance, and we access a bit of help available from Government, we might be able to significantly reduce our reliance on imported labour.’

Mr Hodgson said that there will be a seminar early next month to take that thinking ‘to the next stage.’

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