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That the East of England Regional Grand Committee shall meet at Westminster on Tuesday 23 February between 9.00 am and 1.00 pm to take questions under Standing Order No. 117B (Regional Grand Committees (questions for oral answer)) and to hold a general debate on priorities for a future regional strategy. - ( David Wright.)
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have here a ludicrous situation in which the Government are trying to sneak things through at the end of the day's business. They are quite happy to move motions when there is no time for debate, but when there is roughly an hour to debate an issue, they do not want to move the motion. Can anything be done to make sure that motions on the Order Paper are moved when there is time to debate them in the House?
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind):
The people of Canvey love our island and treasure its heritage. They are indebted to campaigners Lea and Liz Swann and to Councillor Dave Blackwell for trying to reverse a decision to destroy an important part of Canvey Island's seafront-
the tidal pool. I am indebted to the 127 people who attended the public meeting last week and voted unanimously to retain the pool to keep our children on Canvey Island safer. They are calling on the borough councillors to rescind their decision.
The Petition of Liz and Lea Swann, residents of Canvey Island and others,
Declares that they support and want to protect and enhance the Canvey Sea Front area and therefore object to the proposed removal of the swimming pool at the far end of Concord Beach; notes that the swimming pool is enjoyed by many local residents, particularly children, forms an important and historic part of the iconic Canvey Seafront, is important to local businesses that rely on the visitors for income during the summer months, and would cost very little to maintain; further declares that retaining the pool is by far the safer option and that this proposal has been made without any consultation of residents or businesses at all, that the council has not published any costs or proposals for consideration, has not consulted the Environment Agency on the environmental impact to the beach and surrounding properties, did not include Canvey Island's Town Councillors in discussions; that for these and many other valid reasons this proposal should be withdrawn by the mainland Conservative Borough Councillors, and that given the importance to the wider community of protecting this local beach attraction, the Council must properly and widely consult the public before making any decision.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons press the Government to urge Castle Point Borough Council, and the Conservative Council Group, to reject this proposal and instead spend public funds on the swimming pool's upkeep.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): Children's homes should provide a safe, positive and caring environment for young people who are unable to live at home. It is important that they provide the highest standards of care. Over the years, care and inspection of children's homes has been subject to changes. Indeed, before the Care Standards Act 2000, homes with fewer than four children did not have to be registered at all. Quite rightly, inspection is becoming more rigorous, and I welcome the new draft minimum care standards, issued by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, on which Ofsted will base future inspections. That is happening in response to the changing nature of children's homes over the years.
When I first worked as a social worker in Stockport in the 1980s, small family-type care homes provided a family environment for quite young children. The carers were often a couple resident in the home. Now, of course, younger children are placed in foster families and the young people placed in children's homes are older. They present very difficult and challenging behaviour and often come into care with multiple problems and complex needs.
In Stockport, a high number of children and young people are placed in our children's homes from other local authority areas. Some 53 per cent. of all looked-after children are from outside the borough, compared with the national average of 35 per cent. Our percentage is one of the highest in the country. Many of the children who live in the homes about which residents have complained to me are from outside Stockport and are young offenders. Owners sometimes charge up to £4,500 a week per child and some advertise aggressively in other boroughs for "priority and prolific offenders".
In Stockport, we have more than 30 private registered children's homes-the third highest number in the country-and we can bear testament to the changing nature of those homes, given the problems that we have encountered with antisocial behaviour. It is important to improve outcomes for vulnerable, often difficult young people in care, but it is also important to ensure that proper consideration is given to the location of the home.
"Location is carefully considered at the planning stage for a new home...The home is situated in a location which takes into account the safety and protection of children living there and the community."
Tonight I want to focus on the planning legislation that applies to children's homes. I decided to take up the issue again after a recent influx of letters and e-mails from distressed Stockport constituents who have suffered verbal abuse and other forms of antisocial behaviour from the residents of nearby children's homes. My constituents made the point that they were never consulted about the change of use.
One of my constituents lives with his mother next door to a children's home. He told me about their "monumentally distressing situation". He and his mother have been subjected to much abuse and damage to their home. He described how the home for young people came into existence without local people knowing anything about it or being given any say in the change of use from a private dwelling house. It turns out that the house next door was classified under the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 to be in use class C3-a dwelling house, which covers use by a single person or by people living together as a family that has not more than six residents living together as a single household and can include a home where care is provided to residents.
My constituent wrote to Stockport council and was told that no planning breaches had occurred, as a domestic property could be converted, under use C3, into a facility for care for up to six residents living as a single household, without anyone seeking planning permission or consulting local residents. However, a planning application would have been required if residential accommodation and care to people in need of care were being provided, other than use within class C3, as that would fall within class C2. Apart from being a somewhat circular definition, that is very confusing. When is a children's home a residential provision where care is being provided-that is, a C2 use-and when is it a single household where care is provided and therefore a C3 use? It seems to depend on the number of persons, according to the local planning authority.
"The amended Order does not make any changes to class C3: Dwelling houses. This class groups together use as a dwelling house, whether or not the sole or main residence, by single person, any number of persons living together as a family, or by no more than 6 persons living together as a single household. The key element in the use of a dwelling house for non-family purposes is the concept of a single household. The single household concept will provide more certainty over the planning position of small group homes which play a major role in the Government's community care policy which is aimed at enabling disabled and mentally disordered people to live as normal lives as possible in touch with the community.
In the case of small residential care homes or nursing homes, staff and residents will probably not live as a single household and the use will therefore fall into the residential institutions"-
"regardless of the size of the home. Local planning authorities should include any resident care staff in their calculation of the number of people accommodated."
Clearly, the guidance all hangs on the definition of a single household, not care staffing, as care can be provided both in a dwelling house and in a residential home. What is this entity, a single household? In its briefing note to me, the House of Commons Library said that the definition of
"living together as a single household"
"The control limit of six persons defines the scope of the right, but does not imply that any excess in numbers must constitute a breach of planning control. Where, for example, premises have
been put to this use and six people have lived together as a single household, there will subsequently be a material change in use only where the total number of residents increases to the point where it can be said that the use has intensified so as to become of a different character, or the residents no longer live as a single household, (which may then fall to be regarded as a hostel use, or house let in lodgings)."
The lack of clarity has been a particular issue with houses in multiple occupation where high concentrations have increased antisocial behaviour and had adverse environmental impact on the wider community. It has resulted in an increase in houses in multiple occupation without any planning process because they have been deemed to fall into C3 use-a dwelling house with people living together as a single household. In response to the problems, the Department for Communities and Local Government issued a consultation on HMOs and possible planning responses. The responses were published last week, on 27 January, and the most popular planning request was that the use classes order be amended to provide a specific definition of an HMO which removed the ambiguity of the term
"living together as a single household".
Following the recent complaints about a children's home in my constituency, I wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin), and received a reply on 8 October last year which made it plain that the position was not as clear-cut as Stockport council had initially indicated, and that a range of factors on a case-by-case basis should be taken into account in determining whether a change of use from dwelling house use to residential institution had taken place.
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