Call for 'neighbourliness' as dozens object to mother and baby facility in suburban Preston

The operator of a proposed residential facility for new parents and their babies in suburban Preston - and those living nearby - have been told that they will have to be "good neighbours" to each other if the scheme goes ahead.

Thursday, 3rd September 2020, 4:17 pm
Updated Thursday, 3rd September 2020, 8:03 pm

The comments came from Preston City Council’s cabinet member for planning, Peter Moss, as the authority’s planning committee discussed a proposal to convert a detached house in Ingol into accommodation for six new or expectant mothers and their children.

A final decision on the application for the property on Dukes Meadow will be made by the city council’s director of development, after committee members heard that consultation on the plans is not due to end until 7th September.

However, more than 70 objections have so far been lodged – including concerns about overcrowding in the six-bedroomed house, the impact of the facility on parking and the potential for it to cause noise and disturbance.

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The Dukes Meadow property proposed to be converted into a mother and baby facility (image: Google)

The unit will be overseen by an OFSTED-registered manager and will also employ a social worker. Three care staff will be on duty during the day and two “waking sleep-in” carers overnight.

Dukes Meadow resident Bruce Ellison told the virtual meeting that the proposal would lead to at least 15 people being present in the property at any one time – residents and staff – “not the two parents and five children it was designed for”.

“These are vulnerable families that will require a safe, caring environment – not being crammed into a house with no privacy. They are not battery hens, these are people who need help,” said Mr. Ellison.

He also expressed surprise that environmental health officers had made “no comment over the need for clinical waste [disposal for] the estimated 400 soiled nappies a week”.

There are concerns over the ability of the narrow cul-de-sac to cope with any increase in cars that could come with the new development (image: Google)

Planning officers concluded that there was “adequate space” to store such waste, while Vicky Wilden, operations director for the applicant – Blackpool-based Northridge Care Group – pledged that the firm was intending to engage a contractor to remove clinical waste in specialist yellow bags.

She also stressed the need for the type of accommodation proposed and defended the sufficiency of the washing facilities available at the property – one bathroom, an en suite and downstairs toilet.

“The babies will all have baby baths, [but] like any typical family, sometimes you will have to wait to be able to use the bathroom.

“Being pregnant is a scary time for most people. We all need support and guidance to get through this period – and what happens when a mother has no support or someone to talk to? Our service seeks to meet this need,” said Ms. Wilden, who pledged to invite locals to visit the house before it opens.

She added that the scheme was not designed for those with current substance misuse issues.

The meeting heard that at least three quarters of the placements will be made up solely of mothers and babies – but the remainder could also include fathers and an existing child. The duration of the stays will be between 12 and 20 weeks while the parents’ ability to cope with everyday tasks is assessed.

The application had been due to be decided by planning officers, but the proposal was ‘called in’ to the committee by Cadley ward councillor John Potter, who said that there were “legitimate concerns” over traffic.

“It’s quite unusual to have a facility like this, not just in a cul-de-sac, but a cul-de-sac within a cul-de-sac – and it’s worth pointing out just how small the [road] is.

“In the grand scheme of the road network…the impact [of the proposal would be] minimal – but the impact on this particular cul-de-sac could be massive. Our waste collection bins have to reverse into the road because it’s so tight,” said Cllr Potter, who added that he had no “blanket” objection to such facilities in residential areas.

Members heard that there are two driveway parking spaces and a double garage at the property – and that usually there would be no more than five staff on site at any one time, whiole residents would not be permitted to bring their own vehicles. However, half-hour staff changeovers periods are planned early in the morning and late in the evening.

The committee was told that application for a change of use to a residential care facility did not mean that the property would always have to be used for the purpose now being proposed – and could be changed at a later date, without the need for further planning permission, to provide other types of care. That was a prospect that committee member Neil Darby said could cause “much more of a problem” in the future, although he - like several of his colleagues - acknowledged the importance of mother and baby facilities like the one under consideration.

However, fellow member David Borrow said that all such ventures had to be aware of the surrounding areas in which they were operating if they were to be welcomed by neighbours.

“If you’ve got overnight staff, they need to be appraised of the fact that they are in a residential area and it’s not a good idea to be standing in the back garden at 3am, laughing and joking and having a brew.

“There will be occasions when there will be issues, but I’d expect the local community – if it’s handled properly by the organisation running it – to have a protective arm around [the facility],” Cllr Borrow said.

Ms. Wilden said that the firm would be doing everything it could to forge a “working relationship” with locals.

A report by planning officers concluded that the operation of the house as a care facility would still be "considered...similar to a residential use".