All new children’s homes should have to apply for planning permission according to former social worker and Labour MP for Stockport, Ann Coffey.
Speaking at an adjournment debate in parliament yesterday, Coffey called for planning laws to be clarified after her constituents suffered abuse and property damage caused by young people living in children’s homes built on residential streets without, it is claimed, local people being informed or consulted.
Under the Town and Country Planning Order 1987, children’s homes may be classed as “residential institutions” (class C2) or “dwelling houses” (class 3). Coffey claimed that a lack of clarity meant that in Stockport, as in some other councils, children’s homes were using Class 3, which meant no planning permission or consultation with locals was required.
Stockport Council has since issued new planning guidance stating that “all proposals for new buildings for children’s homes will require planning permission”. Coffey said that planning laws need to “change and adapt to suit the times” because of the “changing nature of children’s homes”.
“They used to be small family-type care homes which provided a family environment for quite young children with a permanent live-in carer. Nowadays most younger children are placed with foster families and children’s homes are used for the most difficult and challenging young people who often have multiple problems and complex needs,” she said.
Speaking at the debate, Ian Austin, under-secretary of state for communities and local government, said he was “very sympathetic” to the problem, but said it was “clear that this matter is of particular concern in Stockport because of the relatively high concentration of such children in that area”. Stockport has the third highest number of private children’s homes in the country with 53% of the children coming from outside of the borough.
Austin said he would expect most children’s homes to fall into the same use class (class 2) as other residential institutions, such as nursing homes or training centres. However, he said that some smaller children’s homes could fall into class 3 meaning it was important for local planning authorities to “retain some discretion”.
He said planning authorities should “consider carefully the location of a home for looked-after children” to balance the needs of children and the local community. Austin agreed to meet with Coffey and officials to further discuss the issue.