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Council rejects care accommodation units

Words: Laura Edgar
Application refused / Shutterstock_212587093

Elmbridge Borough Council’s planning committee has rejected a planning application for 222 units of care accommodation for a brownfield site in Walton-on-Thames town centre.

The application also included associated communal facilities, landscaping, parking, accesses (vehicular and pedestrian), public realm, bike storage and the demolition of existing buildings.

Submitted by Guild Living, in partnership with Legal & General, it would have been delivered on the site of a former Homebase store.

The application was recommended for refusal by a planning officer for a number of reasons, including that it “fail[ed] to make efficient use of land by providing the type of elderly accommodation (C2 use class) for which there is no short or medium-term need, despite the acute significant unmet housing need, specifically the C3 use class accommodation and the affordable housing, in the area with the lack of land available for development to meet its housing needs. As such, the proposal is contrary to the aims of policies CS17 and CS19 of the Elmbridge Core Strategy 2011 and of the NPPF 2019”.

The developer accused the council of age discrimination, stating that the reasons for the recommendation to refuse were a potential breach of discrimination law, noting that the Equality Act 2010 prohibits public authorities from acting in a discriminatory way – including discrimination on the basis of age.

Ahead of the planning committee meeting on Tuesday (20 October), the council refuted “the unfounded allegation”.

Commenting on the decision, Eugene Marchese, co-founder and director at Guild Living, said: “Clearly, we are disappointed with the council’s decision but not surprised.

“From the outset, the council’s opposition has not been directed towards the scheme itself but to our idea of homes for older people in Walton town centre.

“People across the country will read the words of this local authority and be shocked that, after months of seeing care homes ravaged by Covid-19, an elected body can take such a callous and ageist policy approach.

“Let's be clear: the council has no policy that says older people should not live in a location. The policy is not discriminatory, but the words and actions of this Surrey council are.”

Marchese noted that Britain’s population is ageing, but developments such as that which has been refused “are prevalent in other countries but do not exist here”.

“Councils must wake up and acknowledge the role they must play in shaping society for demographic change. Shrugging our shoulders and putting our fingers in our ears while demanding that only young people live on a piece of brownfield land achieves nothing other than wasting public funds.”
A spokesperson for the council stated that the administration recognises the importance of responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010.

“We are confident that our report does not discriminate either directly or indirectly on the grounds of age. It does not discriminate towards the people who might occupy the accommodation, but is an assessment of the merits of the scheme considered against the National Planning Policy Framework and our own adopted planning policies and other material considerations.

“The conclusion that care accommodation is unacceptable should not be viewed in isolation: it is a summation of the detailed analysis of the local need for this type of accommodation, including the concentrated supply in Walton town centre, compared with other much-needed accommodation such as one and two-bedroom homes for families, as well as the failure to consider alternative mixed-use schemes including different types of housing and retail/entertainment units.

“No one can deny that Elmbridge works hard not only to support older people in our community but to help them thrive. We have seven centres for the community around the borough, each catering for the needs of our older people and running classes and support sessions on a range of subjects from ipad lessons to Zumba classes and everything in between. Our community transport provides an essential lifeline for our older residents and allows them access to shops and entertainment in the borough. It is the aim of this council, and the countless volunteers who support us, to ensure older people lead happy, active and healthy lives in Elmbridge.”

Yesterday (21 October), the British Property Federation (BPF) and Cushman & Wakefield published a report that concluded there is an “acute” lack of housing-with-care options for older people living in the UK.

As there are around 11 million people aged over 65 years in England and Wales, with an estimation that by 2029 that there will be 2.1 million, the BPF says there is a growing disparity between supply and demand.

If England and Wales are to match the housing-with-care available in places such as the US, Australia and New Zealand by 2029, it means that 45,000 new housing-with-care units must be built every year.

Read more:

Council accused of age discrimination

Housing for older people should be a priority

Image credit | Shutterstock