Changes to controversial Northumberland children's home narrowly approved

Changes to a new Northumberland children’s home have been very narrowly agreed, as the development continues to spark controversy.

And at its meeting on Monday, February 8, the committee agreed to change two of the conditions attached to the permission by the planning inspector, despite objections from neighbours and the concerns of some members.

The charity wants to use the four-bedroom East Farm Cottage, which it has already purchased, to house three eight to 18-year-olds, with the focus being eight to 12-year-olds, while the fourth bedroom would be for a member of staff.

The property in Guide Post which is to become a children’s home. Pictures by Ben O’Connell

It was recommended for approval at the committee meeting in February 2020, having been deferred two months earlier to seek more information, but was eventually turned down by six votes to three on the basis of highway safety, the fear of crime and anti-social behaviour, and the lack of parking.

Planning officers had warned against this and the Action for Children’s appeal was upheld by planning inspector Diane Cragg in a decision published in September 2020.

This latest application sought to relocate an outbuilding to provide parking provision into the rear garden, due to conflicting ownership issues with the front boundary wall.

The second change allows the facility to house not just children from the Northumberland County Council area, but from ‘the wider Tyne and Wear conurbation’, defined as including the local authorities of Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland, County Durham and Gateshead.

The property in Guide Post which is to become a children’s home. Pictures by Ben O’Connell

The first motion on the table was for refusal in relation to this second change, with Cllrs John Beynon and David Towns focusing on the reasons in the inspector’s decision notice.

She wrote: ‘ I consider that it is important to the operation of the site that children are not remote from family and friends and are from the local area. These conditions are necessary to minimise the intensity of the use and protect the amenity of neighbours.’

This was also highlighted by Bill Sanderson, who made a written submission to the virtual meeting on behalf of East Farm Park residents, stating: “The planning inspector included this important condition to reduce the risk of disturbance to neighbouring amenity and to safeguard the wellbeing of children placed at this home.”

However, the move to refuse the variation was voted down by five votes to four, before the application was approved by the same margin.

Cllr Towns had pointed out that the original condition was what the planning inspector had wanted and the fact that he and his colleagues had found the residents’ arguments convincing enough to go against the officer advice and refuse the original application.

But Cllr Liz Dunn said: “We can take the inspector’s recommendation and change it if that’s what we think is right.

“In terms of catchment areas, I’m aware that some places (in Tyne and Wear) are not as far away as some of the outlying areas in Northumberland. I’m also aware that it’s only three placements.”

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