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Meeting hears objections to proposed children's home in Wolviston, near Stockton
A PROPOSAL to convert a village house into a centre for five children with emotional and behavioural difficulties has led to a strong reaction in the community.
About 175 people attended a meeting in Wolviston, near Stockton, on Tuesday largely to voice their objection to the plan to convert 8, Wynyard Road, currently a private house, into a children's home.
The planning application has been made by Scottish organisation, Spark of Genius, which will also be involved in running the soon-to-be reopened King Edwin School in Stockton for 20 children with special educational needs.
Another plan to open a similar home in the nearby village of Thorpe Thewles has already been approved by the council's planning committee, despite 103 objections.
Spark of Genius and the council eventually want to open four new children's homes, at a total cost of £2m so children currently sent outside the borough can return. The authority at present spends about £3.5m a year on children with complex issues and hopes to save about £400,000 a year by bringing them home. About 100 jobs will be created inthe borough, including school staff.
The children can be aged eight upwards, but there are fears in the village that it would be older children who came to Wolviston as about 75 per cent of young people cared for by Spark of Genius are of secondary school age.
The Darlington and Stockton Times was asked to leave the meeting at Wolviston Community Centre but the issue was later discussed at Wolviston Parish Council on the same night.
Lee Dobbing, who lives next door to the proposed children's home and has two young children of his own, helped organise the residents' meeting and spoke at the parish council.
Hesaid there were strong planning reasons to turn down the application on parking, traffic and design and appearance grounds. There were differences to the Thorpe Thewles application as there were fewer places for staff to park and the house was closer to other properties and closer to the centre of the village.
He added: "There are safety, security and crime issues. That's not a planning consideration, but we can't avoid it. I was surprised that Wolviston had 48 recorded incidents of crime last year, which I thought was high, but taking national police stastictics as a guide, that could increase to 144 per annum."
A spokesman for Stockton Borough Council said it was Spark of Genius who identified possible homes, not the council. He said: "Through a joint venture, the home will be run by Spark of Genius, a company with considerable experience and expertise in caring for looked-after children and one that takes great pride in being a good neighbour.
"We fully appreciate that some residents may have some questions and in anticipation of this, we wrote to over 60 households near the site of the proposed home to inform them that a planning application would soon be submitted."
Residents have until Thursday, October 24 to lodge their comments with the council.
Spark of Genius provides residential care for youngsters up to 16 but also provides education programmes for 16-to-18-year olds. No-one was available to directly comment from Spark of Genius although our queries were referred to the council.
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