HOSPITAL bosses have apologised to residents for the difficulties caused by the controversial plans to lay a £1.8m pipeline between Oxford’s two hospitals.

Outraged people in Headington had warned that University Hospital Foundation Trust’s plans to install an underground heating system between the John Radcliffe and Churchill hospitals would cause traffic chaos.

And last week the contractor behind the scheme had to patch up the roads it had dug up after it emerged the project did not have planning permission.

OUH chairman Dame Fiona Caldicott admitted the trust should have listened and spoken to neighbours earlier about the Hospital Energy Project. She told a meeting of the board of directors yesterday that it had not been handled well.

Dame Fiona added: “We are aware of the huge difficulty and consternation experienced by residents about our energy project.

“This has not been handled as well as we could have done given we didn’t start to address the concerns of the residents early enough.

“I want to make an apology to the residents from the board and to assure them we will liaise as much as we can.”

Hospital bosses unveiled the project last year. They hope it will save the trust millions of pounds in heating and hot water bills.

But neighbours blasted the trust, claiming the plans would cause traffic mayhem and stop people reaching their homes while the roads were being dug up during the 18-month project.

Headington resident Tony Turton originally said the plans were “even worse” than he expected, but yesterday he welcomed Dame Fiona’s apology.

He said: “If this signals a change of heart from the trust and hopefully from the contractor as well that they are prepared to listen and talk to the residents, that will be all good.

“It is fair to say the residents in principle are not against the project. We can see the advantages and are happy to support it.

“We just want reassurances about the impact to our daily lives while it is being built.”

Contractors Vital Energi began digging up streets to lay the pipeline, but last week suddenly announced it had suspended work on the project after receiving a letter from Oxford City Council’s most senior planning official.

Patsy Dell, head of planning, said the council had not received any planning application for the project and urged the contractor and the trust to address that.

Vital Energi revealed yesterday it is applying for planning permission through the city council and that this will include the normal period of statutory public consultation.

It said that while roads will need to be closed during the 25 weeks of laying the pipeline, none will be shut for more than four weeks.

Mr Turton was glad the project would be put through rigorous scrutiny by city planners.