On 25th June Spelthorne's Tory-controlled Planning Committee voted for the redevelopment of the Benwell day centre site as extra-care flats for older people. This development had been widely opposed by the local community with formal objections submitted by all the resident's groups.
The decision is in line with other unsatisfactory decisions that the Planning Committee has recently voted through in direct contradiction to the planning policies contained within Spelthorne's Local Development Framework (LDF).
The Benwell redevelopment is contrary to the LDF in the following areas:
- The density, at 182 per hectare, is more than 2 and a half times the maximum proposed in the LDF
- The affordable housing for rent is significantly less than required in the LDF
- The policy on design (LDF policy EN1) has been ignored
Since this was a Council owned site, Spelthorne's Tories are completely responsible for this application. The Council produced the tender documentation and set out the brief. The Tory approach was illustrated by the 10-minute prepared speech read out by Councillor Sider in support of the application. A thoughtful speech from Sunbury's combined residents' associations, pointing out the pitfalls in the proposal and preceding Councillor Sider's speech, was completely ignored.
Liberal Democrats are in favour of the development of extra-care housing but we do not believe that the small Benwell site is a suitable location. For extra-care housing to provide successful independent living, a package of more than just 24-hour on-site care is required. A quality environment consisting of spacious on-site communal facilities and accessible facilities nearby is also essential.
In our view, this is a very poor site for extra-care housing for the following reasons:
- There are no shops within half of a mile
- There is no local green space with half a mile
- Extra-care housing should not be built on 5 floors
- There is too little amenity space available on site - the site complies with the Council's standards, but these are completely inadequate for this type of housing
- The site is simply too small for 39 flats whether extra-care or otherwise.
Cramming older people into flats that would not be allowed in other circumstances cannot be right.
An earlier decision this year, involving the feeble surrender by the Council of the "nomination rights" over the Church Villas site in Green Street Lower Sunbury in 2007, represented a huge lost opportunity. This had been a sheltered accommodation site containing 27 flats but Spelthorne's Conservatives have passed an application allowing the owners -A2 Housing Association - to redevelop the site as a private gated development. Compared to Benwell Church Villas would have been far more suitable for extra-care housing: better located and a larger site, it had previously been elderly accommodation.
Local Liberal Democrat Councillor Caroline Nichols spoke against the Benwell application on behalf of the Sunbury Community. She said "The well designed and well used Benwell day centre will be replaced by a massive 5-storey block which will be completely out of keeping with the area. This is a cramped and poorly thought-out development and a lot less than our frail older residents deserve."
All the Conservative Councillors voted for the development, which will benefit the stretched Council finances to the tune of nearly £700k.