Residents lose fight against children’s home plans

Dozens of residents have lost their battle to stop a children’s care home opening on a Stafford housing estate despite its location just metres from a busy dual carriageway.

The site in Stafford
The site in Stafford

Councillors and objectors raised concerns for the safety of youngsters potentially living at the Parkside property if they ran onto the nearby A34 in a state of distress.

But the county’s highways authority raised no objection to the change of use plans for the Darnford Close home, which is separated from the dual carriageway by railings. The chairman of Stafford Borough Council’s planning committee used his casting vote at a meeting to approve the application after four fellow members were in favour of the plans and four against.

The decision met with anger from members of the public who attended Wednesday’s meeting. There were shouts of “shame on you” and “disgraceful” while one person asked “what kind of backhander are you getting?”

The five-bedroom house is set to provide accommodation for up to three eight to 18-year-olds. Up to three daytime care staff and a manager and up to two night care staff would also be there, working shifts, and the children would attend school or local education.

More than 75 people objected to the application, raising concerns including safety risks, disruption to local residents, potential vandalism and antisocial behaviour and devaluation of homes. There were five supporters however, who said children would benefit from a nice area.

The application was called in by Councillor Jonathan Price, who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting alongside fellow ward councillor Bryan Cross. They highlighted the fear of crime, impact of the plans on the neighbourhood and safety fears for the children because of the home’s location near the A34.

Resident Claire Beckerleg, who spoke against the application on Wednesday, told the committee she was a team manager for a local authority’s looked after children’s team and had extensive experience. She said: “Disappointingly, the property owner and care company are setting up the children to fail.

“This is not about middle-class homeowners saying ‘not on our doorstep’; indeed we support what the care company wants to achieve. It is admirable – every child matters and every child deserves a chance.

“The home is too small, making it more likely for disturbance to occur. This lack of space will make it extremely difficult for staff to calm situations where a child or children are in a high emotional state, likely to heighten the situation and spilling out into the community.

“The large green playing area in front of the home is accessed by many children on the estate and it will be very difficult to risk manage this. There is a very busy dual carriageway adjacent to the home, making it a risk of harm to dis-regulated children.

“Local education provisions are highly oversubscribed and there is a national crisis for more placements. Children will be placed from all over the country, this is not necessarily a home for local children.

“It will be very attractive for authorities afar to move children here highly at risk of exploitation and easily groom other children in the community to be exploited or engage in antisocial behaviour. The care company will not necessarily be aware of such risks.

“The property itself housed a gentleman with mental health difficulties previously. Neighbours have called the police hundreds of times due to disturbances and antisocial behaviour over many, many years with little to no response from authorities, leaving the hell to continue for neighbours.

“Why should these residents pay the price for what is a national crisis across the country for more children’s provision. Have they not endured enough and is this not an infringement of their human right to peaceful enjoyment of their home?”

The proposals were recommended for approval by planning officers ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.

Laurence O’Dwyer, who spoke in support of the application, told the committee: “We have 10 years’ experience of delivering quality residential childcare and creating homes which are safe and nurturing, enabling children to recover from past experiences and recognise their potential.

“This would become the fourth home, caring for three children supported by two adults each day – very similar to a normal family. We have a huge amount of experienced professionals focused on ensuring we deliver the highest levels of care for our children.

“We could not deliver these quality services if we did not ensure we carefully considered the location of our homes. We can clearly evidence that our young people live happily and successfully within communities such as Darnford Close.

“We are regulated by Ofsted and receive monthly audits of our homes. I’m very pleased to say all of our homes are rated good with Ofsted currently.

“We have built an excellent reputation as a valued employer in the areas that we are based, with the obvious economic benefits this has for the local community. We would like to connect with the community in Darnford Close.

“Following what felt like a productive meet and greet on July 19 we now feel we have a better sense of the residents’ concerns, having spent the evening listening and chatting to approximately 20 or 30 people. We will continue holding further dialogue with the community and building relationships.

“Our vision for Darnford Close is to create a safe, nurturing home for our children who can live and thrive within a community environment. Approving this application would demonstrate the council’s drive to support the most vulnerable in society and the local community.”

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