New Westminster city councillors were caught completely off guard by Coquitlam city council's request that Royal Columbian Hospital be relocated to the Riverview site.
Coquitlam city council unanimously agreed to write to the provincial government asking that Royal Columbian Hospital be moved to the Riverview Hospital grounds. New Westminster city council has returned the favour by firing off a letter opposing the idea.
"It is a dark day in municipal politics when one city tries to poach a hospital off another municipality," said Coun. Bill Harper. "It blows my mind that Coquitlam city council unanimously voted to send a letter."
Harper said New Westminster city council has "endlessly" supported Coquitlam in its bid to ensure that the Riverview site isn't developed into housing and is retained for health care use.
"It came right out of the blue," he said of Coquitlam's request. "We rezoned the Labatt's site to be one-third health care - that was to help support expansion and services for RCH."
Mayor Wayne Wright said New Westminster city councillors were "extremely upset" about the request to relocate Royal Columbian Hospital.
"It was a thing of the moment," he said. "I don't think there was enough thought put into it. It's almost on the verge of frivolous."
Wright said he can understand Coquitlam's desire to explore concepts for the Riverview lands, but doesn't believe that relocating Royal Columbian Hospital to the site should have been suggested. He said it would have far-reaching consequences for the hospital and staff, including doctors who have established offices around the existing hospital site.
"The Royal Columbian Hospital is positioned perfectly for so many reasons," he said.
The City of New Westminster has written to Coquitlam city council to convey its thoughts on the matter.
"On behalf of New Westminster city council, I am writing to inform you that it was with surprise and disappointment that we learned of your council's recent motion to appeal to the province to have Royal Columbian Hospital relocated to Coquitlam," said the letter. "While we are generally supportive of other city council's efforts to improve their community for their citizens, in this particular case, Coquitlam has missed the mark."
The letter states that "key infrastructure improvements" have been make in the hospital vicinity in the past decade, including construction of the Sapperton SkyTrain station and rezoning of the neighbouring Labatt's property into a mixed use health, retail, commercial and residential space to service hospital employees and patients.
"Your council is also no doubt aware of planning activity well underway by Fraser Health and the province for a two-phase expansion at the site to address growing demand at this important health care facility," said the letter. "Raising this motion at this time is not only counter-productive, it causes unnecessary anxiety in our community and amongst hospital staff. Be assured, New Westminster city council and citizens will vigorously oppose any notion to relocate Royal Columbian Hospital. Our council would be pleased, however, to meet with you and your council colleagues to provide input and discuss ideas on how to make the best use of the Riverview lands in a way that works for everyone."
The issue of relocating Royal Columbian Hospital isn't the first time New Westminster and Coquitlam have clashed. Coquitlam supported the United Boulevard extension project, while New Westminster would only support the extension if mitigation was done along the entire North Fraser Perimeter Road corridor.
TransLink announced in May that it was giving up the United Boulevard extension project because there was no option that currently meets the needs of both the regional road network and local interests. The City of Coquitlam supported the project as a way of addressing a longstanding traffic bottleneck in the region.