Casebook: Appeal Cases - Rehabilitation centre earns approval despite local fears

Local residents' objections to proposals from a religious community to occupy a grade II listed chapel in Cumbria have been overruled by an inspector who considered their fears to be misplaced.

A community of up to 16 members proposed to occupy the building. The applicants acknowledged that people with drug dependency problems would form part of the community, but explained that emphasis would be placed on allowing individuals to become drug-free through a regular routine of work and prayer. Membership would be voluntary and, although there would be no clinical therapy, residents would be helped in their daily lives to become independent.

The local planning authority, supported by local residents, claimed that the presence of the community would increase the risk of crime and antisocial behaviour because many of its members could have a history of violence and other problems. This would undermine the quality of life for local residents, they maintained.

The inspector noted that candidates wishing to join the community would have to show enormous commitment towards becoming entirely drug-free. He concluded that if any member were in a state of mind that threatened public safety, this would be detected at an early stage. He accepted that all members would be carefully selected and noted that other similar communities operate successfully and without incident.

In allowing the appeal, he imposed conditions making use of the building personal to the religious community and preventing the creation of a drug or alcohol treatment centre. He endorsed further conditions restricting the number of occupants to 16 and requiring all members to be checked by the Criminal Record Bureau to ensure that none had convictions for paedophilia or serious violence.

DCS No: 42541632; Inspector: Alan Novitzky; Inquiry.

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