The property in question is Brunel House, formerly a 40-bed residential nursing home for the elderly, situated at the junction of Passage Road and Crow Lane, Henbury. This is in the process of being converted into a care home for up to 29 (male) individuals with complex or severe mental problems.
Under current planning rules and regulations, it was determined that this conversion did not require formal planning permission or require any consultation to take place as this did not constitute a material change of use. As a result, planning officers issued it with a Certificate of Lawfulness in April.
Now, Cllr Windows is tabling a motion for the next Full Council on this practice, which calls for instructions to be issued to planners whenever they consider applications of this nature to ‘at the very least’ inform local councillors of these plans.
He is being supported by Conservative Leader and fellow ward Member Councillor Mark Weston, who intends to also quiz the Mayor for his views on this matter during the Members Forum which precedes the 15th December meeting.
Cllr Windows (Con, Henbury & Brentry) said: “Whilst I appreciate there may be no legal requirement to consult with the community on these redevelopments, I think there should always be an obligation to advise or forewarn on potentially controversial proposals.
“Most people I know would agree that there is a qualitative difference between a home for the elderly and secure accommodation for males with mental difficulties.
“I understand the service-users in this instance will have a variety of ‘complex mental health needs, challenging behaviour and personality disorders’. This new purpose for the building is obviously causing a great deal of alarm amongst local residents.
“I suspect a broad brush approach has been taken in such matters precisely so as to avoid raising opposition to them going ahead.
“Such an absurd anomalous situation of loosely defined planning classifications has to change or a way found to work around its obvious flaws.
“As a minimum, I want planning officers to employ the best practice (or work under the direction if necessary) of always keeping ward councillors apprised of properties where real changes of use or clientele are planned.
“If nothing else, involving Members early in this process can only help to alleviate fears and suspicion over large-scale adaptations and applications of this kind.”