LETTERS written by Prince Charles to the Government expressing his frustration at delays to the redevelopment of the Cherry Knowle site have been made public.
The Prince of Wales was keen to see the decommissioned old Victorian asylum building in Sunderland redeveloped for housing and to provide a new hospital and community facilities.
His correspondence with the then Health Secretary John Reid features among 10 sent by the prince to ministers on a number of issues - including British forces in Iraq, farming, the preservation and regeneration of historic buildings, the professional development of schoolteachers and the use of herbal medicine - which have been released following a long legal battle.
A further 14 by ministers and three letters between private secretaries were also released following the long-running campaign by Guardian journalist Rob Evans to see the documents following a freedom of information request.
In 2004 his Prince’s Foundation came up with a vision of 800 homes and a new hospital on the Cherry Knowle site, but the following year plans stalled after the site was transferred to the English Partnerships agency.
The then-health secretary John Reid wrote to Charles in October 2004, saying “I would like to reassure you that we are keen to ensure this project moves ahead”, and again in January 2005 to update him on the progress.
I can’t help thinking that transferring this task to another Government Department risks the introduction of further complexities and delaysPrince Charles
But on February 24 2005 Charles wrote back to vent his frustration about the lack of progress, saying: “I hope you will forgive my persistence on this issue but, despite your helpful updates, the log-jam to which I referred in my letter of last August shows little sign of alleviation and it saddens me greatly to think that the immense progress and collective enthusiasm gathered 12 months ago is now in danger of being lost.”
He added: “The continuing hiatus seems to be due in no small part to the protracted negotiations undertaken as part of the residual estate transfer to the ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister).
Charles continued: “I can’t help thinking that transferring this task to another Government Department risks the introduction of further complexities and delays and will inevitably undermine the health vision as other priorities take precedence over time.”
In a reply to Charles in March 2005 to “allay” his concerns, Mr Reid said: “I can assure you that I take the matter of the Cherry Knowle Development very seriously, and am hopeful that it will provide a model for future such collaborations”.
After the closure of Cherry Knowle, the £50m Hopewood Park hospital opened on part of the Ryhope site last autumn. Other land was earmarked for housing by the Homes and Communities Agency.
A statement from Clarence House on the publication of letters written by the Prince of Wales to government ministers said: “The Prince of Wales cares deeply about this country, and tries to use his unique position to help others. He has devoted most of his working life to helping individuals and organisations, to make a difference for the better of this country and the world.”