Temporary change of use from dwelling (use class C3) to children’s home (use class C2).
The Planning Officer, Lisa Morina, gave a detailed presentation on the report relating to the abovementioned planning application, a copy of which had been circulated (for copy see file of minutes). Members noted that the written report was supplemented by a visual presentation which included photographs of the site. The application was for temporary change of use from dwelling (use class C3) to children’s home (use class C2) and was recommended for approval, subject to conditions.
The Planning Officer noted the property was two-storey, semi-detached and was surrounded on all sides by residential development. She added that vehicular access was at the west, between the bungalow and 1 Linden Cottages and the property had a private garden and off-street parking. It was explained the access was not within the ownership of the property, however a right of access did exist. The Committee were shown site photographs and proposed floorplans, it was noted there were no external alterations proposed.
In respect of consultation, the Planning Officer noted that there had been no objections from statutory or internal consultees, with the application having been advertised via site notice and neighbour consultation letters. She added there had been 11 letters of objection received, with concerns raised relating to: impact on residential amenity; having vulnerable young people in an area with elderly people and young children; and crime and the fear of crime. Other issues raised included the detrimental impact on local residents from a former occupant of the property and concern that new occupants with difficult behaviours may adversely impact upon the children of existing families in the area.
Objectors had also raised concerns as regards the parking provision being limited and that carers did not utilise the existing car park, reducing the availability of on-street provision for other residents. The Planning Officer noted objectors had also cited concerns in respect of the level of consultation and in respect of how the facility would be managed, with queries relating to further consultation should a person with high risk move to the property and the process for making a formal complaint. She noted other matters raised by Objectors related to another property owned by the owner of The Manse and the mortgage status of the property.
The Planning Officer noted that the application was considered to meet he aims of Policy 18 of the County Durham Plan (CDP) in terms of residential amenity and the character and appearance of the locality. She added that in reference to highway safety, Policy 21 of the CDP, the application was considered to have sufficient off-street parking. She concluded by noting that the concerns of Objectors had been noted, however, they had not been deemed sufficient to sustain a refusal and therefore the application was recommended for approval, subject to the conditions as outlined within the report.
The Chair thanked the Planning Officer and asked if there were any questions on the presentation.
Councillor D Brown asked for clarification as regards where objections had come from, the vicinity of them to the property, how many site visits had been undertaken, and what dialogue had there been with objectors to the application. The Planning Officer noted there had been two site visits, one at the start of the application, another prior to the application coming to Committee for consideration. She added objectors had been in contact via telephone and e-mail.
The Chair noted the Planning Officer would look for information relating to where the objectors lived and in the meantime asked Councillor J Blakey, Local Member, to speak in respect of the application.
Councillor J Blakey thanked the Chair and Committee and asked for Members to really consider the refusal of the application. She noted there had been a number of issues around the home, with the previously occupant having not been supervised to the extent Local Members had been told. She added that residents of the area deserved better and that there had been nothing but trouble from that home and the other Council home, the village having suffered over the last three years from anti-social behaviour. Councillor J Blakey noted she was not against people with difficult behaviours; however, she would ask that the Council considered prior to placing young people into such facilities whether they were fit and proper for both the young people involved and the local residents.
The Chair thanked Councillor J Blakey and asked the Committee Services Officer to read out a statement from Councillor M McKeon, Local Member in relation to the application.
“As Councillors, we have two solemn objectives: to speak on behalf of our residents, and to treat the children in the Council's care as if they are our own. It's called being a corporate parent, and every Councillor is one, regardless of where they represent and which Committees they sit on. These two responsibilities almost never clash, and when the community was first approached about the proposed children's home on the Manse, I thought it would stay that way.
Residents and Councillors were told that the home was designed bespoke for a young man with complex needs, who would have round-the-clock intensive caring from staff and would not, for example, be able to leave the home without supervision. There was a small possibility that another young person would live alongside this young man eventually, subject to him settling in and finding a suitable foster-sibling, and that the process would be closely managed and communicated to Councillors and residents. When I learned a month ago that young people had already been moved into the site, that one of these young people had caused an issue on the street, that none of these young people were the very vulnerable young man the Manse was designed for, and that neither residents nor Councillors were informed of this, I was bitterly disappointed. Coxhoe has another children's home already, and although most of the young people there have settled well, there were some very challenging anti-social behaviour issues tied to a particular young person a few years back. Those experiences, combined with the fact that young people were moved into the Manse against the assurances given to the community, leads residents and Councillors to question if the proposed home will remain for one very vulnerable young man, or whether its character will change again, and residents will not be able to do anything about it.
Cornforth Lane is a complex area of Coxhoe. It has an ongoing and acute parking issue that will take massive capital investment to solve, it has the same issues with private landlords that other terraced streets have; if Cornforth Lane is not the most sensitive area of Coxhoe then it is one of the most sensitive areas of Coxhoe.
Although one young person with constant supervision and enough parking on-site for staff could find a decent home on the street, it would not be a suitable place for a home that was any larger or more volatile, both for the residents of the street and for the young people. It takes a village to raise a child, and there is a reason why so many families choose Coxhoe to be that village. It is quiet, with a thriving high street and lots of kids to do.
As a corporate parent, I have been proud of how looked-after children moving to the village have become so actively involved in Coxhoe life, attending youth clubs, and making friends. I want to make sure that the young man with complex needs and nowhere else in Durham to go has a house where he can feel safe, but I also do not want to see our children in a house that will not work as a home for them in the long run, because its location was selected under a different pretence and relationships have broken down with the local community. I am not sure that a Planning Committee will resolve that tension, that is a bridge for children's services to build. I have spoken to the service and they seem keen to do this, but as a Councillor I am uncomfortable without a way for the village to object to its use evolving further away from the assurances we were first given”.
The Chair thanked the Committee Services Officer and asked Mr McKenzie, local resident, to speak in objection to the application.
Mr McKenzie thanked the Chair and noted that he and his wife had lived in Linden House which adjoined The Manse for 39 years and had brought up a family while living there. He noted that since The Manse had been used as a children’s home from last year, there had been music blasting at all hours and with screaming and doors banging until 2.30am. He added that the Police had arrived at the property and noted that bedroom doors had been kicked in where the resident had been locked inside. Mr McKenzie noted that the properties were built in the early 1900s and had a single brick dividing wall and explained that he had asked the Council as regards soundproofing, with an Officer from the Council having noted it “could be mentioned”. He added he had not been given a copy of fire regulations and noted that he and his wife were “living on a knife edge”.
Mr McKenzie explained his wife had been a carer for her sister for 19 years and they were therefore very sympathetic to the needs of the children referred to children’s homes. However, he noted he and his wife could not live as things stood, with staff at the home being unable to handle the young person that had been at the property.
He noted information as regards the potential next young person to occupy the home, with fears as regards young people gathering at the property to drink and play music loudly, a situation that has occurred in the past. He added that if that information was correct then this worried both him and his wife, noting they had five grandchildren and other residents nearby had children.
Mr McKenzie noted Members would have seen from the site plan that the properties were semi-detached and explained that visitors from the Council had in fact walked straight into his conservatory, uninvited without knocking or ringing the bell. He added he did not think anyone within the Council Chamber would like such as thing to happen to them.
He reiterated as regards Police being called to the lane and noted issues where cars had been parked in front of his property and buses had been unable to get past and those people with issues would come and knock on his door to complain as regards the matter.
Mr McKenzie noted that the area was a quiet part of the village and residents were happy with the way it was. He added that if permission had not yet been approved then why people working and receiving deliveries at The Manse currently. He noted people had knocked at his property as regards deliveries and he noted noise from The Manse and that there had been some alterations. He explained that residents needed to know who was in charge and contact numbers if the proposals were to go ahead, stressing that the residents were those that were paying Council Tax and he hoped their views would be listened to. Mr McKenzie explained that if the proposals were to go ahead, the owner of the property, and Durham County Council, would change part of the village, cause all the aforementioned problems raised by objectors, and he noted there was no doubt in his mind that there would be double parking and parking on pavements in the location. He added this was forcing elderly residents using mobility scooters to go on to the road and he had in fact witnessed one accident. He noted people with children, going past to reach the nearby school, would have to also go on the road if they had pushchairs due to the double parking, adding he felt that was surely an accident waiting to happen.
The Chair thanked Mr McKenzie and asked the Strategic Manager (Looked after Children) Claire Morris, to speak on behalf of Durham County Council as applicant.
The Strategic Manager explained she understood the concerns of residents and noted that the proposal was that the property would be a Durham County Council children’s home and therefore would be regulated in terms of fire safety and be subject to Ofsted regulations and inspection criteria.
She added that the no children would move into the property until registration had been completed, not only in terms of the planning permission, also from Ofsted as regulator. The Strategic Manager explained that Ofsted had informed the Council that the property was suitable and legally compliant with all the relevant regulations, including fire safety.
The Strategic Manager noted that the proposals were for a children’s home for up to two young people and, as correctly noted, there would be one young person to initially reside at the property and only when that young person was settled would the addition of a second young person be considered. She added that there would need to be a “match” of the young people, with that match being risk assessed and in line with all the regulations coherent with a children’s home.
It was added that the service would work closely with members of the community so that issues, such as parking, were addressed and the Strategic Manager noted that those attending the property would not park on the street, they would use the off-street parking provided. She added that if the property was in full use the parking situation would be easier to manage as staff would be present and be able to pick up and communicate on any issue very quickly.
The Strategic Manager confirmed that there were no children currently living at the property and therefore anyone that has been accessing the property had being doing so to check on the property and to receive any post, parcels and carry out any administration required in connection with the Council looking to establish the property as a children’s home.
In relation to the support for the children that would go into the children’s home, the Strategic Manager noted that it was two-fold, firstly there would be two full-time members of staff, their jobs being to make sure the children that lived in the property were well supervised and safeguarded, both of them from others and of them to others. She added that would be in line with guidance and regulations in respect of children’s care. It was explained that while there was only two members of staff, there was oversight from a manager and there was also service and strategic management oversight in addition. She emphasised that there was significant oversight of a property once it became a children’s home. She noted that she was unable to know what children may do in the future, however, she could guarantee that there would be regular risk assessments, planning, together with close work with partners, such as local schools and the Police, as regards the risk assessments and planning undertaken to support the young people to ensure that they are safe, and to support the communities that they live in.
The Strategic Manager explained that it was the intention that Durham’s children, in Durham’s children’s homes, would have the ability to create a stable future for themselves as they move into adulthood either in that locality or a close locality of their choice.
She noted it was very important to support Members in understanding the purpose of the service and, while unable to share private details of individuals, the service would work in such a way to reassure those that the Council was working to support those children and young people.
She noted the service would be providing contact details so that anyone with complaints or queries would be able to speak directly to the registered manager, or other members of the management team in order to be provided with the assurances they needed. She explained noise would be kept to a minimum and the Council did everything it could to ensure that.
She added that it was recognised that the property was joined on to another house and that was why the proposals were temporary, with the intention being for the Authority to purchase a permanent property somewhere within Durham in the future, with the young person to move to that property. The Strategic Manager reiterated that the proposal was to temporarily register the property as a children’s home for the period it took to purchase and establish a permanent home for those children. She noted she would wish to provide the Committee and members of the community with reassurances that the property would be well managed and regularly inspected by Ofsted, who would not only look at the quality of the care provided, but also scrutinise any of the concerns that any resident would have, as referred to by the potential neighbour.
The Chair thanked the Strategic Manager and asked Members for any questions relating to the points raised by the speakers.
Councillor E Mavin asked as regards the training of the staff, for example in terms of restraint techniques, and also as regards night-time arrangements and whether there would be two members of staff over that period.
Councillor K Shaw entered the meeting at 10.00am
The Strategic Manager noted that staff were fully trained, with Children’s Homes 2015 regulations stating very clearly what training any member of staff who worked in a children’s home must have. She emphasised that was a legal requirement and would be inspected by the regulator and both the point they would make a decision to register the new children’s home, prior to any children moving in, and also through monitoring through at least an annual two-day inspection. She noted that was one measure in terms of ensuring he suitability of staff, alongside monthly Regulation 44 reports which were undertaken by an independent visitor, one aspect of the visit being to look at the suitability of the staff, including their training. The Strategic Manager noted that there would always be two members of staff at the children’s home day and night, with staff swapping every 24 hours. She added that was in addition to the registered manager who would be there Monday to Friday, alongside an on-call management service which existed after hours and at weekends, and while it was unlikely they would be required to visit in those periods, the management oversight was in place. She clarified that the manager was counted as “additional” with the two on-site staff being classed as the actual number of staff for the children’s home.
Councillor J Elmer noted his query related to the quality of supervision, adding he felt no one would deny that it was vital need to be able to take care of those with complex needs and to ideally embed those people within communities.
He noted the local resident had described a previous situation where it did not appear that those in the property had been correctly supervised which had resulted in anti-social behaviour in terms of noise and disturbance. He noted that the Strategic Manager’s assertion was that the quality of supervision would be very high indeed which did not match that experienced by the local resident and therefore he would ask for further information in order to resolve that mismatch. The Strategic Manager noted the incident referred to by the neighbour occurred when a young person was at the property for six nights, and on a particular night there was loud music and the music was turned down and headphones purchased for that young person, as would be for any young person being looked after. She added that there was an incident with loud banging noise and the young person was moved following that incident out of respect for the local resident. She noted that there would be always be occasions in any property or home environment where there would be times where noises could be heard through properties, though in the case of the proposals that would be kept to a minimum as there would be two members of staff and all times and issues with noise or car parking would be resolved.
Returning to the query made by Councillor D Brown, the Planning Officer referred the Committee to the location plan on the projector screen, highlighting that five objections had come from properties within the area with the remainder coming from objectors within the wider village. In reference to points raised, the Planning Officer noted the application was restricted to use by two children via condition and that the permission would be temporary for two years, also by condition. She reiterated that there was sufficient off-street parking at the application site and therefore there should not be issues relating to on-street parking as a result of the children’s home.
The Principal Planning Officer, Paul Hopper noted that Durham Constabulary’s Architectural Liaison Officer had offered no objections to the application and had noted that the arrangements in terms of the proposed number of children at the home was what they would expect to see and was in line with good practise.
The Chair thanked the speakers and Officer and asked the Committee for their comments and questions.
Councillor D Brown noted the recommendation for approval within the report and added he had sympathy for those objecting, especially the neighbour. He added he appreciated that the application was only temporary for two years and asked, if the Committee were minded to refuse the application and the decision was appealed, whether the Council would have a good case.
The Solicitor – Planning and Development, Neil Carter noted it would depend upon the reason for refusal, and while he had not heard any reasons put forward by Members at this point, he noted that if a refusal reason proposed was crime and disorder, there would be significant difficultly sustaining such a reason as there were no objections from the Police and therefore there was not that evidence base to rely upon. He noted if those were the reasons that Members wished to advance then his advice would be that those the reasons would struggle to be sustained at appeal and that costs could be applicable.
Councillor E Mavin explained that he had 20 years’ experience working with children with special needs and noted that each day was different. He added that as long as there were well trained staff in place then he felt the proposals would be acceptable, however, he did note his sympathy with the objector.
Councillor S Deinali explained she understood the concerns put forward by residents and Local Members, however, looking at the report there did not appear to be any material planning grounds that would visibly stand and she could not see any way that the Committee could refuse the application. She noted as a Corporate Parent and parent of a child with additional needs that each day was different and while she sympathised with the neighbouring resident, she felt every child needed a safe place to live and the applicant had put forward a good case in terms of what they would provide and the regulations that would be in place. She noted she would reserve judgement until all Members had made their comments.
Councillor E Mavin moved that the application be approved as per the recommendation as set out within the report, Councillor D Brown seconded the proposal.
Upon a vote being taken it was:
That the application be APPROVED subject to the conditions as set out within the report.