Published: 02/12/2004, Volume II4, No. 5934 Page 9

The troubled£1bn project to build the Paddington health campus has been thrown a lifeline by planners who have previously raised serious objections to the project.

In a letter to the project, Westminster council last week reaffirmed its support for the overall thrust of the project that will merge St Mary's Hospital with Royal Brompton and Harefield trust and Royal National Heart and Lung Institute, which is part of Imperial College.

The council has previously raised significant objections to the size and mass of the project, which has forced the project to commission architect Sir Terry Farrell to revise the plans. Problems with space and patient privacy have seen the budget rocket from an estimated£300m when it was initially proposed in 2000 to around£1bn.

In its letter Westminster confirms its support for the 'emerging proposals' from Sir Terry and offers surplus land - the North Westminster Community School site - to give the project more floor-space and satisfy concerns about the mass of existing plans.

But the letter adds: 'It is important that all those involved recognise the scale of the challenge that the campus presents. This is a location where the city council expects the provision of world-class architecture to compliment the high quality design already approved and constructed at Paddington basin.' The letter will be seen as a boost for Julian Nettel, the chief executive of St Mary's, who has been working full time on drawing up an outline business case for the project for over a month. He has handed the day-today running of St Mary's to director of performance and modernisation Mary Wells, but a spokesperson said it was 'difficult to say when the OBC would be complete'.

Meanwhile one of the most vociferous opponents of the campus, the Heart of Harefield campaign that wants Harefield Hospital to remain a stand-alone specialist heart hospital, has received backing from all parties on Hillingdon council.

The council - which gave the campaign£5,000 - put in writing its opposition to Harefield's relocation and called on health secretary John Reid to scrap the plans for the project.