Ascog care home hearing: report in full

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PLANS for a 30-bed residential care home in Ascog were described by one councillor as “a facility which I think will be welcomed with open arms” at a meeting held in Rothesay on Tuesday.

The application, by local developer Ian Woollcott of Bute Homes Ltd, was unanimously approved by Argyll and Bute Council’s planning, protective services and licensing committee (PPSL) after a hearing lasting a little over 90 minutes at the Pavilion.

For those unable to be present, here’s our full report of proceedings...

The planners’ view

David Eaglesham, the council’s planning team leader in Bute and Cowal, began by referring to a supplementary report prepared since the PPSL last considered Mr Woollcott’s application.

This referred to further representations received since that August 24 meeting – one expression of support, from Jean Moffat of The Hermitage, Ascog, and a series of emails on September 8, 9, 11 and 12 from Colin Slinn of Capital Developments (GB) Ltd claiming title to the foreshore over which the development’s sewage treatment plan would cross.

Responses from MacRoberts Solicitors, on behalf of Mr Woollcott, stated that the foreshore is owned by the Crown and consent has been granted by the Crown Estate.

Mr Eaglesham’s supplementary report suggested the matter be addressed by an amended condition in the event of the application being granted.

Mr Eaglesham explained the topography of the site, to the north of Ascog Mansions, and how the application was seen as being consistent with policies in Argyll and Bute’s local development plan and structure plan.

“We feel that overall the development is sympathetic to the character of development in the Ascog area, where there is a considerable number of large, institutional buildings,” he continued.

“It arguably fits better than the ten homes for which permission was previously approved on the site.”

The applicant’s position

The arguments in favour of the application were put by Scott Graham of planning consultants McInally Associates, who said the proposed building had been designed to fit in with the character of the typical property in the area.

Mr Graham said the principle of development on the site had been established by the granting of permission for ten houses on the site some years previously, of a much greater density and much closer to the site boundaries than the proposed care home.

He said the application was consistent with all relevant development plan policies, and pointed out that there had been no objections from SEPA, Scottish Water, Scottish Natural Heritage or the council’s environmental health and roads departments.

Mr Graham said the 14 letters of support for the application had all mentioned the need for additional care home provision; he mentioned two recent articles in The Buteman on the subject, one reporting the Bute Forum for Older Voices’ concerns in that area, and one reporting that Bute Community Council was broadly supportive of the plan.

He said a 2010 census of care home provision in Scotland, carried out for the NHS’s national services information division, had found Argyll and Bute had the third lowest number of registered care home places per head of population of all Scotland’s 32 council areas.

Mr Graham concluded by saying that all areas of concern raised by objectors were, in his view, capable of being addressed through conditions attached to the application in the event of permission being granted.

Expressions of support

Bute councillor Robert Macintyre said care home provision on Bute had “diminished considerably” in his 16 years as a member of the council, and gave a list of the views expressed to him since Mr Woollcott’s application had been made.

These included “a fantastic opportunity”, “it will give peace of mind”, “it is clearly needed”, “the sooner it’s agreed the better”, “it will bring back employment”, and “please don’t let this opportunity pass by”.

Councillor Isobel Strong said her first job after coming to live on Bute was at the Glasgow Corporation children’s homes in Ascog, Agnes Patrick and Southpark, and said the number of people attending those institutions, along with the Railway Convalescent Home and the Salvation Army home, both operational in the Ascog area at the time, had never created any problems.

Cllr Strong also referred to the current lack of care beds on the island, particularly since the refurbishment of the Victoria Hospital and the closure of the adjacent Victoria Annexe.

She referred to “the demographic imperative” facing both Bute and the wider area, and said additional facilities were clearly needed to prevent elderly Bute residents – some of whom have lived on the island all their lives – being “shipped off” to the mainland in their later years due to the shortage of local 24-hour care provision.

Jeanette McIntyre, secretary of the Bute Forum for Older Voices, said the current situation created trauma not just for elderly people but for their families, who often had to travel long distances in difficult weather to see their relatives.

She said a care home would be “a big asset” to Bute in reducing illness caused by the stress of travel, and said she heartily supported the views of Cllrs Macintyre and Strong.

The case against

The objectors’ position was argued by Ascog resident Ronnie Falconer, who said that while there was no denying the need for more care home provision on the island, he believed there was a question over whether Ascog was the best location, and whether a home would not be better sited closer to the healthcare facilities already available in Rothesay.

Mr Falconer said the proposal had to be considered in the context of Ascog “as it is now”, and that it was not valid to justify institutional development based on the past existence of facilities which had long since closed their doors.

He said the objectors’ main concerns were the scale of the development, its adjacency to existing properties, the increase in traffic the facility would create in an area known to be an accident blackspot, the impact on the “steadily improving” biodiversity of the area and the risk of flooding to adjacent properties.

Mr Falconer, who suggested a range of amendments to the planning deparment’s proposed list of conditions, questioned whether the home would be fully utilised and said there had been no business case presented to say how it would be run.

“We hear there are advanced negotiations with an end user,” he said, “but we have heard nothing to assure us that these places would be made available to local people.

“I’m not against any development but there are concerns from people living in the area about this development taking place there.”

Councillors’ questions

Cllr Al Reay (Lib Dem, Helensburgh Central) asked about the development’s proposed domestic heating system; Craig Verdon, from architects G.D. Lodge & Company, said an underfloor heating system would be installed using ground source heat pumps.

Cllr Reay asked whether thought had been given to using solar panels, but Mr Verdon said it had been difficult to find solar panels which would fit in with the proposed slate roof finish, and that such panels’ materials had “a very limited life”.

Cllr Reay asked whether priority would be given to local people in allocating places in the home; Mr Verdon replied: “Ideally, yes.”

Cllr David Kinniburgh (Cons, Helensburgh & Lomond South) asked David Eaglesham for more information on drainage from the site, and asked whether there was a time limit for the applicant to rectify any problems which might arise.

Mr Eaglesham said it was up to the applicant to demonstrate to the planning authority that the development’s drainage system would work to the planners’ satisfaction, and that there were rules already in place to guard against “recklessly discharging” water on to land owned by others.

“There is no reason we can’t ensure those concerns aren’t addressed satisfactorily,” he said.

Cllr Neil Mackay (Independent, Oban North & Lorn) asked Cllrs Macintyre and Strong how serious the problem of elderly Bute residents having to be moved to care homes off the island actually was; Cllr Strong said she knew of three cases in the last six months, but that there may be others she was not aware of.

Cllr Mackay asked Scott Graham whether he had statistics on the availability of ‘care in the community’ in Argyll and Bute; Mr Graham said the census he had referred to in his presentation dealt only with care home provision.

Cllr Mackay then asked Mr Eaglesham for his view on a suggestion by Ronnie Falconer that the list of conditions include provision for extra signage in view of the likely additional traffic levels; Mr Eaglesham said the council’s roads department had not raised any concerns about traffic levels, and suggested the addition of extra signage, flashing lights or other safety measures to deal with a relatively small risk “would not be conducive to the amenity of the conservation area”.

Cllr Mackay moved on to a suggestion from Mr Falconer that the development’s waste water treatment facilities be located at least 50 metres from any neighbouring property to minimise nuisance to those living nearby; Mr Eaglesham said modern treatment facilities “generally don’t create odour problems”, and said SEPA had the power to take action over unauthorised discharges.

Cllr Reay asked whether any screening would be provided to the south of the site, the location of the neighbouring house Clyde View; Mr Verdon said that following discussions, plant screening would indeed be provided to minimise any nuisance caused by car headlights.

Cllr Reay then asked Mr Falconer whether there were statistics to confirm his view that the location was an accident blackspot; Mr Falconer said he had none, and had not sought the information from the police, but that he spoke from his “experiences of observation” and knew that it was an issue of “very serious concern”.

Cllr Reay asked Mr Falconer to expand on his view that there would be better sites for a care home; Mr Falconer said there might well be advantages to it being located closer to shops, cafes and other amenities as well as to other healthcare facilities.

“There are many unused and empty buildings in Rothesay which there might be the possibility of converting to a care facility,” he said.

After reminding members that their job was to consider the planning merits of the application as presented to them, committee chair Cllr Danny Kelly returned to the issue of traffic levels, and suggested that if the application was approved, Mr Woollcott should be encouraged to discuss the subject of signage with the council’s roads department.

Decision time

After all parties who had previously spoken were given the opportunity to sum up their case, Cllr Kelly invited members of the committee to discuss the application.

Cllr Reay stated: “There is one fact above all else: we are all living longer these days, and there is a greater requirement for quality care homes.

“These should be where people need them, and I see this development as a high quality nursing home in a very good, open setting which I think residents would enjoy.”

Cllr Alex McNaughton (Independent, Cowal): “I think this is going to be a very positive thing, and a real asset to the island of Bute.

“I think the concerns shown by the objectors are addressed by the proposed conditions, and I would be happy to support the planning department’s recommendation [for approval].”

Cllr Jimmy McQueen (Independent, Dunoon): “I’m all for it.”

Cllr Donnie McMillan (Independent, Mid Argyll): “I would associate myself with those remarks – facilities like this are most welcome in Argyll.”

Cllr Alister McAlister (SNP, Dunoon): “I would agree completely with everything said so far.”

Cllr Kinniburgh: “I do believe this to be a quality care home. I certainly will be supporting the application – I trust that all the points raised regarding drainage will be addressed.

“My only other concern is regarding signage, but I’m pleased the applicant is willing to converse with the roads department on the issue.

“I’m more than happy to support this application – it is a quality development, and it is something that the island desperately needs.”

Cllr Mackay: “It’s a large building, but I think it embraces the area appropriately, and that’s why it conforms with the policies we have.

“The chairman said we were dealing with this application in this location, but I think this application would be welcome in any area of Argyll and Bute. It’s the kind of place I would be happy to see any elderly relative of mine living in, or indeed to live in myself.

“If the developer works with our planning department to ensure the very relevant concerns are taken into account, the people of Rothesay and Bute will have a facility which I think will be welcomed with open arms.” Cllr Kelly: “I think this is a good application – the setting is good and it will work well on Bute.

“It’s something Bute needs and I will be supporting it as well.

“I would say to the applicant that rather than putting on more conditions regarding access and signage, I would be happy for you to get together with the roads department and look at some sort of solution for the area.”

Each member of the committee was greeted with a round of applause when they announced their intention to vote in favour the application, and by a cheer when Cllr Kelly’s motion, that the application be granted, received unanimous support.

At the close of the meeting Ian Woollcott told us: “I’d just like to thank the genuine people of this island, and all three local councillors, for supporting us.

“Discussions with our prospective end user are continuing, and we now have to get a building warrant, but all being well we would like to be in a position to make a start after Christmas.”