Councillors this evening have refused planning permission for a low secure unit and housing development in Gwersyllt, however the decision is open to appeal.
The application proposed demolish a number of vacant buildings just off Mold Road in Gwersyllt and develop the 54 bedroom, low secure unit on the site.
The meeting started with a representative from the healthcare provider and applicant speaking in support of the proposal. Citing some raised issues they were keen to point out the ‘clients’ housed in the secure unit would not include those involved in ‘sex offenders, sexualised behaviours, substance misuse, and eating disorders’.
They added: “The risk to the community is minimised by robust relational security policies, environmental and clinically in place” adding that the company had been running similar facilities “for over 5 years without any incident”.
Speaking to the benefits of such a development, they pointed out that 300 jobs could be created with various local supply chain integration as well.
Wrapping up their time slot by speaking about the ‘humanity’ side of the development they added: “It is about getting people home, families visiting in the local area rather than going around the country. The beauty of something local, it supports people locally. If loved ones are there, and there more often, it helps their wellbeing”.
Gwersyllt North Councillor Barrie Warburton spoke firmly and angrily, not helped by mislaid glasses: “I am asking that the application is turned down.
“It is extremely very close to two schools in particular. It will overlook both playing fields and schoolyards. It is going to be quite a big structure, it is not really in the right position is it.”
“I have had residents in the last week to ten days emailing me, phoning me, stopping me in the supermarket, worrying about what is built, who is going to be there.
“Security. It says fences, why are there fences? We all know.”
“Surrounding this plot is footpaths, quite a few of them, school children walking with parents passing this unit every day, every school day. I don’t think thats right.”
“There is a leisure centre there, open 7 days a week. We are supposed to be encouraging children to come off their laptops and computer games to visit leisure centre. Do you think parents sending them from Gwersyllt , and areas in walking distance, to walk past secure unit like this? I wouldn’t want it.”
Cllr Warburton pointed out it was ‘called mental health unit’ and that there was a ‘railway line by the side of it’, rather than explain his point he looked around the room and said “I don’t think I need to say anymore about that one.”
He added other details in terms of the scale of the development, and returning later to cite local headteachers opposition, summarising “I am thinking we should turn down this application before we all regret it.”
Gwersyllt West Cllr Gwenfair Jones spoke to oppose, aligning her comments with previous opposition made via the local Community Council that she is on.
Cllr Jones said she believed the application should be considered under planning process as prison, ‘as it is after all a secure unit’.
The Planning Officer advised the meeting that “it is not a prison, it is a hospital. People are detained under mental health act, but are not prisoners, so does not apply.”
The Officer picked up on other points made, pointing out that proximity to schools, or incompatibility to the area, did not come under any specific policy locally or nationally to prevent use. The Officer displayed extra information from the applicant of sites in Bolton and Manchester showing the closeness of housing developments to existing facilities.
The Officer concluded: “Clearly there are concerns in the community, but it is not a planning consideration” pointing out that the management and operation of such a facility would come under NHS health boards and health inspectorate who have regulatory role.
Cllr Pemberton bluntly said he felt ‘schizophrenics next to schools should be a planning issue’, acknowledging the need for such a facility but ‘it is in the wrong position’.
The Chair of the Committee reiterated the common mantra to planning meetings, ‘A planning reason is needed to refuse’.
Cllr Graham Rogers said he had concerns that once a person had received treatment they would not ‘be returned back to their own surroundings’, and said if they remained local there could be ‘trouble’.
A suggestion that a planning condition could be included to ensure that people did not remain local was shot down by the Officer who pointed out it was ‘inappropriate and would not meet the test of planning conditions’.
Cllr I David Bithell cited the ‘grave concerns’ from Council Officers in relevant departments, and suggested ‘we as members should take their views into consideration’, adding he agreed a facility was needed but again it was ‘in the wrong location’.
Cllr Tina Mannering, who represents Gwersyllt East/South, said: “I can’t believe we can’t find something in planning regulation to not support this.
Speaking of the plans before them she added: “A three meter fence, that is huge, it is some secure unit.
“I went to school there and know those paths, and on dark mornings they are scary enough without this there.”
“It is a big safeguarding issue, if not a planning issue, I will not be supporting this and hope colleagues don’t either.
“We need it, but not in this location.”
The Chair and Officer reminded the committee again “If it goes to appeal, it will be judged on planning issues.”
Cllr Marc Jones spoke of his ‘huge frustrations’, saying he would like to see ‘good quality care’ but added he was unhappy with the information provided by the developer. Speaking of the split application, with the secure unit and housing plans on the same proposal and appearing skeptical if the housing was for general use or linked the secure unit, “Frankly I am fed up of being told one thing at outline (planning applications), and given something else in full.”
“If they want to be straight with us, we can argue the toss with knowledge available, but with regards to residential we are being asked to buy a pig in a poke.”
“I find it difficult who would want to live in a place like this overlooking secure hospital. If they plan to use the residential as part of rehabilitation, tell us.”
Cllr Frank Hemmings drew some heckles when he pointed out “Some are levelling these people as dangerous and possible criminals. They are people who need help and support, we should not assume all are dangerous to children, we should be helping these people.”
The committee then formed a deferment and rejection proposals, with a deferment suggested to get further detail – and an outright rejection based off over intensification of the site.
A vote to reject the application outright succeeded 9 votes for, 5 against with 4 abstentions.
The application can be resubmitted, or appealed at a future date.