Planning changes needed to clampdown on number of children’s homes

PRESS RELEASE:July 11.

Ann Coffey MP will call in Parliament today (Thursday) for radical changes to planning rules to limit the number of children’s homes in an area and to stop them from springing up in “red light” districts.

Ms Coffey, who is the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, said that planning legislation was the “final piece of the jigsaw” in relation to children’s homes and tackling child sexual exploitation.

She will use a Commons adjournment debate to call for the government to issue new planning guidance spelling out when it would be inappropriate to give planning permission for a children’s home.

She said this should include areas where there is a prostitution or drugs problem or areas where there is already a proliferation of children’s homes, which puts pressure on local resources like schools, the health service and the police.

Ms Coffey said new planning guidance was especially vital after the Department for Education has said that the suitability of an area should be taken into account before a children’s homes is allowed to register.

Stockport has 31 privately owned children’s homes – one of the highest in the country. There are 241 children living in children’s homes in Stockport and yet only 26 of those children actually come from Stockport.

Stockport Council recently held a scrutiny review of the relationship between council’s agencies, private children’s homes and the police, which highlighted concerns regarding current planning regulations and the proliferation of Children’s homes in residential areas.

It recommended changes to local planning policy so that the numbers of existing homes in an area could be a consideration at the planning stage of a new application for a children’s home.

Ms Coffey also highlighted a “crazy” case in Birmingham where a children’s home has been recommended to be given planning permission in a “red light” area where there has been a problem with vulnerable girls being sexually groomed.

She said it was “staggering” that the planning application had been recommended for go ahead despite the fact the area is renowned for prostitution, drug dealing and serious crime.

Ms Coffey welcomed the new proposals from the Department for Education, which are currently being consulted on, and include the requirement for children’s homes providers to carry out a risk assessment of an area with the police and local authority. Registration will be refused or suspended where the area is deemed unsafe.

But she said that the fact that planning legislation laws do not specify that this is a material planning consideration meant that the Department of Education and the Department for Communities and Local Government, who are responsible for planning guidance, are not “singing from the same hymn sheet”.

Ms Coffey said:

“I would like to see the government issue planning guidance which helps councils refuse planning permission to stop too many children’s homes springing up in the same area as we have in Stockport and the North West, which has 25 per cent of all children’s homes in the country.

“I also want new guidance to reflect the fact that a home deemed to be in an unsafe area by police and Ofsted will not get registration and states that this needs to be a material consideration at the planning stage. “

A Parliamentary inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, which Ms Coffey chaired last year, revealed that a significant minority of vulnerable young people, living children’s homes, are being targeted for sexual exploitation. Recent high profile court cases, including the recent Oxford case, highlighted this.

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