Elderly age restriction lifted for mental home use

A company has been successful in removing a condition which restricted the use of premises in the Berkshire green belt as a residential care home for the elderly and enabling the building to be used as a community mental health hospital.

Planning permission had been granted in 1987 for the change of use of a building to a residential rest home. Subsequently, consent was granted for an extension to provide 40 residential bedrooms when the disputed condition was imposed. The appellants stated that the term ‘elderly’ was not defined by reference to a specific age and consequently the condition was void for uncertainty. In contrast the council stated that it had a perfectly sensible and understandable meaning.

In favouring the council’s position the inspector agreed that a judgment had to be made as to whether any individual in their 50s, 60s or 70s fell within the definition. In her opinion anyone below their 50s would not consider themselves to be elderly and in any event it was clear from the evidence that the facility contained residents aged in their 20s upwards. Thus there had been a breach of planning control.

Nonetheless, this did not mean that the restriction should continue. Removing the limit would have little impact on the living conditions of local residents or on the character of the green belt. The area was dominated by road traffic noise and little change in background noise levels would result. Nor would it have any material impact on the openness of the locality. On this basis its use as a community mental health hospital was also acceptable, the only difference in planning terms was the ability to accommodate a patient under the Mental Health Care Act 1983 and this would not give rise to unacceptable fears in the local community.

Inspector: Hilda Higenbottam; Inquiry

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