County resists nimbies against children’s home

Dorking adult education centre building

Resident objections to a new children’s home and apartments for care leavers have been labelled “petty” as councillors approved the plans.

The former Adult Education Centre in Dene Street, Dorking can now be converted to provide accommodation for young people in the home and in “trainer flats” which bridge the gap before young people move into independent housing.

Plans for new children\’s home in Dene Street, Dorking. From Design and Access Statement. Credit: SCC

A meeting of Surrey County Council’s planning and regulatory committee on Wednesday (March 29) unanimously approved the plans, which will include the construction of a new two-storey building on part of the site. But the meeting also heard that of 48 letters received at the time of the meeting, 24 were objecting to the plans.

Three were in support, citing reasons such as the need for suitable accommodation in Surrey and being glad to see a vacant site used, while 21 letters were commenting on the application.

Councillor Ernest Mallett MBE (Residents’ Association and Independent, West Molesey) described residents’ objections as “petty” when he spoke on the application. He said: “I don’t quite know what the population are thinking. They seem to be objecting as if this was some sort of prison for about 100 people. I can’t really understand the objections.”

Cllr Mallett added that on a site visit he thought the plans were “an excellent use of the building”.

The development, which will be owned and run by Surrey County Council, raised concern among residents about rats being displaced and the need for pest control in neighbouring properties, and the authority being “poor at managing children’s home”.

These, along with concerns about the consultation carried out and the protection of the “well-being and mental health of existing residents” were put under the heading “other” by officers, stating in the report they were not material planning considerations for the application.

An officers’ report said: “The majority of objections were concerning the need to protect and enhance the site’s nesting swifts.”

Officers confirmed ten “swift bricks”, which allow birds to nest in them, would be added to the design, while the birds’ current access to the roof of the building would be maintained during building work.

Along with the concerns about swifts, residents raised issues including the design being out of keeping with the residential area, worries about anti-social behaviour, noise and disturbance, and smells from “industrialist catering”.

Cllr Catherine Powell (Farnham Residents, Farnham North), who sits on the council’s corporate parenting board, said the new facilities were “absolutely necessary” and that she “100 per cent” supported the application.

She told the meeting: “Clearly the building is in a state of decay and it puts it back into a useful purpose.”

Officers confirmed the work would be done in two phases, with the children’s home and “no wrong door” facility being built first, followed by changes to the existing building to develop the trainer flats.

The Children’s Home would be for a maximum of four residents and 2 staff, while the “no wrong door” facility, also in the new building, would accommodate two emergency residents and one member of staff.

Top image: Dorking Children\’s home approved in Dene Street, Dorking. Current view from Google Street View