VILLAGERS have told of their concern after a council bought a house to be used as a children’s home.

The Old Vicarage in Stillington has been bought for £400,000 by Stockton Borough Council to be used for five children.

Strong opposition to the scheme was expressed at a packed public meeting in Stillington Community Centre last night. Thursday, May 1.

Among the villagers expressing disquiet was a woman who said she was on the point of buying the house but was “gazumped” by the council. Eventually the price of the detached house rose from £325,000 to £400,000.

The Northern Echo was given a Land Registry report which showed there are covenants on the house, including one that says it must remain as a residential dwelling. Stockton council was aware of the covenants however.

The house was bought as part of a £2m scheme to allow the council to bring 20 looked-after children, aged from eight to 18, back to the area by buying four residential properties. The authority has already refurbished King Edwin School in Stockton and expects to save £400,000 a year by bringing children currently sent elsewhere back to Stockton.

If planning permission is approved, Scottish company Spark of Genius will run the care homes and school. Similar proposals in Hartburn and Thorpe Thewles have met with opposition.

The council’s policy of buying homes before making the authority’s intentions public has been met with criticism by several leading councillors.

At the public meeting, attended by about 300 people, several residents criticised the council’s policy buying the homes before consulting the public which includes the seller having to sign a confidentiality clause.

Others expressed fears that the looked after children had possibly violent backgrounds and pointed out the house was next to the village primary school.

Zak McIlhargey, of Spark of Genius, said there were very few problems with the type of children likely to be housed in the home and said: “The important thing about their backgrounds is they’re your bairns and they need looking after.”

Coun Ann McCoy, Stockton Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, said the children would not have a criminal background.

In a prepared statement she said: “Residents will have an opportunity to comment on the change of use so that their views can be taken into consideration when Planning Committee decides whether to refuse or agree the change of use.”