Despite reports from municipal staff that there were public transit challenges with the proposed Bayers Lake outpatient clinic, new documents show the province went ahead with the project, and didn’t inform the public of the issue.
The documents were obtained through access to information requests from Global News.
A question-and-answer document sent to senior staff in the health department just prior to the news going public on April 20 says, “additional transit service is anticipated.”
That’s despite an email contained in the same information request sent by Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) chief planner Bob Bjerke to Nova Scotia’s deputy chief medical officer of health, Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, in which Bjerke said providing good public transit to the new site would be difficult.
“HRM identified that this site would not be aligned strategically with overall HRM objectives and has significant transportation and community building challenges that would be difficult to overcome now and in the future,” Bjerke said in the email dated April 20.
It was sent a few hours after the site was announced.
The same question-and-answer document also says there’s a possibility of residential development in the area. But the city told Global News the area isn’t zoned for residential construction.
Another email from Halifax to the provincial transportation department contains the city’s assessment of the site. It is mostly redacted in the documents released through access to information, but Global News obtained an unredacted copy.
About the Banc Group property, Halifax staff said there is “no opportunity to provide the kind of transit service required by the Province.”
Premier Stephen McNeil was on hand for the site announcement.
When he was asked about the low level of transit access to the chosen site compared to the downtown site it is replacing, he said once the development is in place, that would be an “ongoing conversation with HRM around making sure that this is an accessible site.”
In addition to the Banc Group site, the email shows city staff also assessed a site at the Mainland North Commons, the Shannex property in Bedford South, and another site in Bayers Lake at the old Rona store.
The Mainland North Commons site was “by far, the best suited site for transit,” according to the email.
But another document shows staff with the province characterized the risks for buying the Mainland North Commons site from the city as “high.”
The reasons for the “high” risk assessment were a “slow, difficult negotiation,” and that the “sale of property could be subject to input from the public.” The report also said the site was “too small,” but suggested underground parking and a two-storey building would “make this site work.”
In addition, the report said the site had “good public transit access.”
Transit risk ‘high’ at chosen outpatient clinic site: Province
That document is titled “Preliminary Site Investigation Reports: Short Listed Sites.” In addition to saying that purchasing the Mainland North Commons would be “high” risk, it also labelled public transit at the chosen site “high” risk.
The analysis is largely redacted, but one of the final points says “it may be some time before a high level of transit service is available.”
And adds, “adequate on-site parking for patients and staff will be required.”
More transit anticipated with more development: Province
An interview request sent to the provincial health and transportation departments was refused. But an emailed statement from transportation spokesperson Brian Taylor maintains the province’s initial position.
Global News asked why the province said “additional transit service is anticipated,” when the city’s review of the site contradicted the statement.
“The province anticipates that as development grows in the area in the future, more services would likely be offered and allocated, as is typically the case when any new residential and commercial areas are developed in a city,” Taylor said. “This includes transit.”
He also said “there were many factors involved” in the site selection. And noted “the majority of people who will access services at this site will be coming from locations outside of the downtown core.”
“This location is well situated to improve access to services. As there is nothing further to add, we are respectfully declining your interview request.”
Liberals were “incompletely truthful” on Bayers Lake health clinic: NDP
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the documents raise more questions about the timing of the announcement just over a week before an election call, and why the site was chosen.
“Plainly, the documents indicate they already had information… that this wasn’t a slam dunk at all and there were major challenges from the point of view of HRM,” Burrill said.
The Progressive Conservatives are calling on the government to “take a step back” from the decision and hold more consultations with the city.
“They’re ignoring evidence,” Tory MLA Tim Halman said.