Monday, 16 December 2019

Redevelopment of care home refused permission again

A COMPANY’S bid to demolish and rebuild a care home in Whitchurch has failed once again.

An appeal by Majesticare, the owner of Eastfield House in Eastfield Lane, against South Oxfordshire District Council’s decision to refuse the planning permission was dismissed by planning inspector Andrew Spencer-Peet.

The company wanted to knock down the former Victorian residence and build a purpose-built complex with 48 bedrooms.

It said the old 27-bed home, which it closed in 2016, was no longer fit for purpose because the floors and access were uneven so that it didn’t comply with accessibility laws.

Majesticare said modern care homes needed more residents to remain financially viable and potential customers now expected more facilities such as hair and beauty salons or cinemas on site. Mr Spencer-Peet said that despite the short-term economic benefits of the scheme, it would harm the character of the village conservation area and there was no evidence that suitable sites didn’t exist elsewhere.

He accepted that a previous proposal by Majesticare to extend the home to create 45 beds, which was granted planning permission, would not be viable.

However, he pointed out that the company’s own viability consultants had concluded there were other possible uses for the existing building.

Mr Spencer-Peet said that the development would cause unacceptable harm to two protected lime trees in the grounds as they would have to be pared back significantly.

Majesticare had argued there was a shortfall of 403 care beds within 10km of Eastfield House and that this figure could almost double by the year 2027.

It pointed out that the Government declined to list Eastfield House in 2010 as it wasn’t of sufficient historic or architectural interest.

The company’s application was the latest in a long series of proposals aimed at building a bigger facility on the site.

In 2010, it sought permisison to demolish the home and build a 47-bed replacement but this was rejected.

It won permission for the extension on appeal in 2013 and renewed this in 2016.

Majesticare then filed several applications to demolish and replace the building either in full or in part, preserving only the front facade. These were all turned down.

Whitchurch Parish Council has consistently opposed the company’s plans, as have many villagers.

Jim Donahue, who chairs the council, said: “We’re very pleased that the building has been saved from demolition.

“Unfortunately, we are powerless to force the owner to bring it back into use but now that we’ve passed this milestone they’re clearly going to have to rethink their approach.

“The appellants have accepted that there are alternative uses for this building and if they aren’t interested then perhaps they might want to make it available to others.

“Of course we’re disappointed that the building has been allowed to fall into such disrepair but hopefully this refusal is a step in the right direction.”

According to research conducted by Majesticare last year, most Whitchurch residents supported the principle of improving the facilities at Eastfield House but more than half were against the new proposed design, which was to use reclaimed materials from the remains of the old building. The company said it would create up to 40 full-time jobs.

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