Thursday, 28 August 2008

Difficult children in care home - loophole in planning law?

A special planning & development committee meeting of Neath Port Talbot CBC nine days ago approved a controversial application for change of use.

Castle Care Group Ltd lease a dwelling in Dulais Road, Seven Sisters. Formerly a pair of semi-detached houses, it is now a single residential home, categorised as C3 (see definitions here).

Castle Care's intention is to use the premises to house children aged 10-16 with behavioural difficulties. The advice from the Director of Planning was that the company was empowered to do this as it was a house "occupied by up to six residents living together as a single household, including a household where care is provided for residents" (from the definition of C3). No further planning permission was needed.

It would probably be fair to say that Seven Sisters in general, and the neighbours in their well-cared-for semi-dets in particular, had been taken for granted by the company. If it had not been for a sharp-eyed neighbour spotting the addressee's name on a parcel left on the step, they would have remained in the dark. The combination of fear and resentment felt by the community at this discovery can be imagined. A campaign against Castle Care's use of the house built up.

One wonders what Castle Care had to gain at this point by persisting with their plans. There was a chance, albeit a slim one, of getting the local community onside if it had explained its plans well in advance, and consulted widely. The point was made at today's meeting that Seven is a close-knit community, which makes acceptance of problem children from outside more difficult. The other side of the coin is that it is easier to reintegrate young people back into society in a place which has a strong sense of community, if they are accepted by that community. The chance of achieving this was thrown away, in my opinion, by the company's proceeding in secret.

The company then decided to extend the facility to provide education. This would necessitate an application for planning approval to change of use, from C3 to C2. (See the previous reference.) This provided a focus for protest. Councillor Steve Hunt passionately, and in detail, put the residents' case for preventing these troubled children being housed in a quiet district of family houses. The first hearing was suspended so that a site visit by the whole planning committee could be held. The planning committee was left in no doubt about the strong feelings held by the many protesters who greeted us in Dulais Road.

At the planning & development committee which followed, Councillor Woolcock (Labour) & Councillor William Morgan (Plaid) both called for councils to be given more discretion, and for distinctions to be made in planning law between what one normally understands as a domiciliary care home, and one that caters for active young people with behavioural trouble.

It was clear to those of us who had attended both committees that, once the classification of C3 had been confirmed, there was no legal impediment to the house being used for disturbed children. Moreover, if we had voted against the use of two rooms for educational purposes, it was virtually certain that the applicants would have taken the case to appeal, and they would have won. We would have incurred needless costs for the tax-payer.

It seems to me that there should be an addition to the list under C2A: "care home for children with behavioural difficulties". Alternatively, a new category C2B for homes which do not merit the full security of C2A, but do require careful consideration as to their siting.

In the meantime, the residents of Seven Sisters have no recourse other than to attempt to change the mind of Castle Care Group. I trust that they will do this without breaking the law, and not to the detriment of the children to be housed.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Planning permission for such establishments always causes difficulties in the local communities be it Drug and Alcohol Centres, Bail Hostels, Accomodation for Homeless, or in this case Accomodation for "Children with Behavioural Difficulties"

The above groups are some of the most vulnerable in our society, should be treated with respect like we ourselves would like to be treated with respect.

I live close to an building which houses young people via the Yellow Project in Bridgend, apart from "Queen" being played very loudly during the hours of daylight, there hasn't been any disruption to our community.

G. Lewis
Bridgend Lib Dems

Frank H Little said...

Our local party president, Ron McConville, tells me that the government used to run farms to rehabilitate young offenders.
They used to defray some of their costs by selling their produce. According to Ron, the trade unions had them closed down for that reason - they were seen as a threat to members' wages. If so, it was a short-sighted view, even then. Now, with a national minimum wage, rather than the low pay agreed by the agricultural wages board*, and the general rise in food prices, there is no logic in this fear.
It has been noted elsewhere that children with behavioural problems have been helped by tending animals, under expert supervision. This seems to be the logical answer, allowing these children to rebuild their lives away from densely populated areas.

*Wages boards, which agreed minimum pay in industry sector by sector, were set up under the Liberal government at the beginning of the twentieth century, expanded by the coalition government which followed the First World War, and abolished by the Thatcher government.

Frank H Little said...

Gary - I hear what you are saying, but if there is not proper consultation beforehand, there is going to be residual resentment and fear on the part of local residents.

Anonymous said...

Proper consultation before hand is essential - totally agree with you Frank, but some organisations will try and make political capital if the resident Councillor doesn't oppose such schemes, see Marilyn Harris for details.

G. Lewis
Bridgend Lib Dems

Frank H Little said...

You are referring to Cwmavon ward, presumably.

Anonymous said...

One Presumes rightly.

G. Lewis
Bridgend Lib Dems