Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Lib Dem U-Turn Paves the Way for Small Care Home

After recent criticism from within his own ranks, Lib Dem leader Cllr Keith House was left isolated at this week's HEWEB local area committee meeting. Councillors considered an application to convert a house in Cllr House's ward to a care home for four girls aged 9-18 years. This was a change of use application, and the planning officer's recommendation was to permit the change of use.
Cllr House

In November 2014 the same applicant applied to extend the home with additional bedrooms. On that occasion, Cllr House channelled Clint Eastwood, challenging the applicant to, "Go on punk, make my day" as he led his Lib Dems to deny permission. Some councillors who spoke and voted against the application in 2014 changed their mind and voted in support of the applicant this week. Predictably, the applicant appealed the 2014 decision, and the planning inspector saw through Cllr House's grandstanding and overturned the refusal.

This week's decision was simply about the change of use. Planning officers had decided this application was "controversial" enough to qualify for consideration by the LAC. In technical terms this was a change of use
from C3 (Dwellinghouses) to C2 (Residential Institutions). This is strange because the government's planning portal states that category C3 includes homes for up to six people living together as a single household and receiving care e.g. supported housing schemes such as those for people with learning disabilities or mental health problems . It was not made clear at the meeting why this home for four people had to be subject to a change of use at all.

Neighbours raised a number of concerns, but were primarily worried about the additional car movements and parking that would result from the change of use. The home is not in a location where there is a lot of opportunity for on street parking. However the planning officer's report made clear that the home has a huge front garden which could easily accommodate six cars. The officer's judgement was that the impact of car parking would be no different from a large family with older children who drove and consequently not sufficient to deny the application on planning grounds.

The applicant made representations drawing on their own experience, the need for vulnerable young people to be cared for in a domestic environment close to their families, and their success stories enabling girls in their care in other homes to complete their education and realise their ambitions for the future.

The first committee member to speak was Cllr Emma Norman, the other representative of Wildern Ward.
Cllr Norman
Cllr Norman followed the tone set by the applicant, abandoned her prepared speech, and spoke from the heart in defence of the vulnerable girls who would be helped by the applicant, referring to her own professional and family experience.

At this point the neighbours felt they were being unfairly criticised and there followed a bit of direct discussion between them, the applicant and committee members. This prompted the vice-chair to urge the chair to regain control of the meeting.. This he did, and Cllr Norman apologised, saying she was "choked up" by the applicant's story.

Cllr House then took a more conciliatory position than he had in 2014, stating that both sides of the argument were "right". However he criticised the "emotional" content of the discussion - a comment presumably aimed at the applicant and his colleague Cllr Norman - and stated that he disagreed with the officer about the parking, and would be voting against the recommendation to permit the change of use.

Other councillors picked up his criticisms of the tone of debate, with Cllr Clarke agreeing that there had been too much "emotion" and lone Conservative Cllr Hall feeling the neighbours had been "bullied". However, both they and Cllr Welsh stated they would be supporting the applicant. When it came to the vote only Cllr House put his hand up against the officer's recommendation.

I got the impression the majority had made the right decision, but that the meeting had done nothing to address the neighbours' legitimate worries. The neighbours and the applicants all left the hall together and seemed to be having a huddle outside, so perhaps they were coming to an arrangement without the "assistance" of their elected representatives.

Photo credits: Hedge End Town Council


  1. Not sure that being 'choked up' is a good basis for making decisions. Councillors need to be a little more objective than that...

  2. Thanks for the comment Ray. Even councillors are human beings ..