PLANS for Airedale General Hospital were given the green light way back in 1963.

But as is so often still the case now with any major proposed scheme, the development was not without its controversy.

There had been considerable wrangling in preceding years over where the new hospital should be built.

One camp favoured Skipton, which was at the geographical centre of the regional hospital board’s area, whilst supporters of Keighley as the location said it was central to the greater bulk of the growing population.

So a 33-acre ‘compromise’ site alongside the main road between the two towns was chosen, which the board said would provide “ready access” for staff, patients and visitors.

However, Keighley’s then MP Marcus Worsley described the decision as “crazy”.

He said Keighley was where most people lived – and that was where the hospital should be built, despite concerns from some about identifying land which could accommodate a development of that size.

An alternative plan to redevelop the old St John’s Hospital in Keighley had been rejected.

Mr Worsley claimed the final choice of site “like most compromises would be inconvenient to the greatest number of people”.

The chairman of Skipton Urban District Council, Councillor William James Allen, also had concerns – although he was less vehement in his opposition.

He feared that getting to the hospital could cause problems for some people living in the Dales, but the council welcomed the fact that services would be retained at Skipton General Hospital.

The new Airedale Hospital building would follow one of two designs sanctioned by the Ministry of Health and be mostly two-storey.

The selected design was based on an industrial building system using a pre-cast frame and cladding. It was centred around a layout that aimed to help patients “feel more at home in an environment that was familiar”, with garden courts and landscaped areas “within sight and within easy access”. It would include a full range of hospital provision, such as operating theatres and Accident & Emergency, plus facilities including maternity and geriatric units and a short-stay psychiatric unit. The original estimated cost of the project was between £3-£4 million, but the final figure was closer to £5.5m.

Work on the new 643-bed hospital got under way in 1966. The plan was for the complex to open in 1969, but it was the following summer before it was ready to receive its first patients.

Main sections of the hospital opened their doors on July 5 – when a dozen ambulances brought 60 patients from Keighley Victoria Hospital – and the maternity ward became operational the following day. The first baby was born there on July 7.

The hospital’s official opening was performed in December that year by Prince Charles. He toured the site and stopped to chat to staff who lined the corridors.

And in the children’s ward, he helped ten-year-old Rachel Blakeney with a crossword puzzle.

The prince joked: “Unfortunately I couldn’t fly in because of the weather. And if I had, I may have landed by mistake on one of these roofs.”

He inspected a design model of the hospital and signed the visitors book.

One guest recalled: “A large marquee was erected in the hospital grounds where all visitors and staff had lunch. It was a happy and memorable day.”

And Margot Shaw, from the Keighley News, was impressed by the prince’s “relaxed and friendly approach” and insisted that he “wowed all of the women, young, old and middle-aged alike!”.

The new hospital was a pioneer of its time.

It was among the first nationally to introduce nursing structures resulting from the Salmon Report of 1967, which made recommendations for the development of senior nursing staff and the status of the profession in hospital management.

Airedale’s chief nursing officer, Mary Tinkler, explained at the time: “Under the Salmon structure a matron is no longer directly responsible for every detail of administration, from devising the menus to writing her own letters and remembering to order fresh supplies of toilet rolls.

“In the future all her skills will be directed towards nursing and management and have supporting staff for clerical work and catering. The Salmon Report said the running of a hospital nowadays is a highly complex affair which demands top-line management skills.”

During its first year, Airedale Hospital admitted 10,000 patients. There were 40,000 outpatient attendances, 25,000 accident cases treated and 1,500 babies born. But those figures were to soar.

In 1991 for example, admissions totalled 23,627, there were 80,413 outpatient attendances, 36,490 Accident & Emergency cases and 2,351 babies born.

The opening of the hospital, which served a population of 155,000, marked the demise of others in Keighley.

St John’s had been built originally to serve the Keighley Poor Law Union.

As an auxiliary war hospital during the First World War, it housed 185 servicemen’s beds and treated 1,052 military cases.

Eventually specialising in maternity and geriatric cases, it closed in 1970 when the last patients from its prestigious ‘special maternity unit’ were transferred to Airedale. The building was demolished three years later.

Keighley and District Victoria Hospital had started out as a cottage hospital in 1876 in a Highfield Lane house, the former home of a well-to-do draper, the late Aaron Iveson.

A voluntary committee leased it for £75 a year.

It had eight beds and a matron – with a girl to help her – and a kitchen table was used for operations!

Local doctors attended for free, with funds being raised by collections and voluntary contributions.

Additional land was subsequently bought and major extensions opened in 1894 and 1904, when it became Victoria Hospital in belated recognition of the late Queen’s jubilee.

It also shut its doors in 1970.

Morton Banks Hospital had opened as the Keighley and Bingley Joint Isolation Hospital – a fever hospital with 20 beds – in the 1890s. In 1916 it was offered to the War Office and became Keighley War Hospital. Demands were to drive-up its accommodation to 746 beds. But the buildings, later Keighley Infectious Diseases Hospital, eventually closed too.