Charity blocked from opening new children's home in Northumberland - despite councillors being warned over appeal costs

Controversial plans for a new children’s home in a Northumberland village have been refused, despite an appeal costs warning from a planning boss.

Action for Children’s application to change the use of a residential property on the eastern edge of Guide Post was once again recommended for approval by the Castle Morpeth Local Area Council on February 10, after it was deferred two months ago.

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

A motion to give the green light was on the table at the meeting, but was turned down by five votes to three (with one abstention), before rejection of the scheme was backed by six votes to three.

The property in Guide Post which was proposed to be converted into a children’s home. Picture by Ben O’Connell

The reasons given were highways safety and the fear of crime and antisocial behaviour, as well as the lack of parking, the impact on the community and the impact on residential amenity.

Planning manager Liz Sinnamon warned the council could end up being responsible for the applicant’s costs at appeal.

The council’s highways officer had no objections, and a similar case in the region refused based on antisocial behaviour concerns was overturned on appeal due to lack of evidence.

The property is located off a private road south of the A196, which serves a small housing development and is the only route into a working farm – the source of the safety fears given the road’s use by heavy agricultural machinery.

The property in Guide Post which was proposed to be converted into a children’s home. Picture by Ben O’Connell

At the committee’s December meeting, members voted to defer to make sure they have done ‘due diligence’. They wanted more information on the impact of children’s homes like this in other areas and whether the required five parking spaces can be achieved, given that Lesley Sisterson, who owns the farm, claimed that she owns a section of wall which needs to be removed and she will not allow it.

Action for Children contacted a third of its 45 properties and found no increases in crime or antisocial behaviour.

On parking, there is disagreement over who owns the wall, which needs to be resolved outside the planning process. Officers had recommended a condition requiring the parking to be created before the occupation of the house.

Keith Darling, on behalf of the 34 objectors, said: “These proposals will undermine the quality of life currently enjoyed by the residents and blight the community; this is a material planning consideration.”

The property in Guide Post which was proposed to be converted into a children’s home. Picture by Ben O’Connell

Moving to the decision, Coun John Beynon said: “I know the children have to be housed somewhere, but this is just the wrong place.”

Coun Julie Foster agreed, pointing out that the applicant’s agent himself had stated that the children ‘have a right to live in safe conditions’.

But Coun David Bawn said: “I can see why there have been strong objections from the local community, but we have to look at what’s in front of us.

“If we refuse this, we will get appealed very quickly and we will lose.”