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A home for vulnerable children

Our friends over at PTF Homes asked us to help them obtain planning permission to convert a property for use as a children's home for young people with complex needs.

As tricky as this may be, how could we say no? The significant impact it would have on the lives of these children was not lost on us. But the heaviness of our task pales in comparison to the responsibility our clients would be taking on.

Our role here was getting them planning permission for this specialised usage. In the world of planning, there are some applications which are more design driven and some which are more policy driven. This one was the latter.

Our developer and investor clients here in the UK often see us as a hybrid of architecture + planning consultant. Which makes us somewhat unique in their minds. But why? It leads us to wonder - when did architects get a reputation for being useless at getting planning permissions? Are architects really that bad at it? Is it planning consultants who are exacerbating this view? Is it clients who mentally compartmentalise architects as 'frou-frou' designers? Is it architects themselves who only want to do 'frou-frou' work? (Like when someone says, "I would wash the dishes, but others are so much better at it...") Perhaps we are a bit old school, but we can remember a time when architects were capable of being responsible for the full spectrum of this service.

A key component of operating a 'children's home' is to have planning permission for Use Class C2. There is a very nuanced and delicate balancing act here. For those who may not be familiar, allow us to explain -

A C2 Use Class is defined as a "Residential Institution". Examples of this are care homes, hospitals, nursing homes, boarding schools, residential colleges and training centres. On the face of it, this sounds like the correct category for a 'children's home' to be in. However, the Government's community care policy seeks for people to be cared for in their homes where possible, rather than in large and impersonal institutional buildings, often redolent of the Victorian era. The thinking is that such vulnerable individuals would receive better personal care, be better integrated within a neighbourhood, and be less stigmatised - all aims that we wholeheartedly agree with. This would mean a fewer number of children residing in what is essentially a family home - which is normally Use Class C3 "Dwellinghouses".

So why the need for C2? The short answer is that Ofsted requires it. In addition to rating schools, Ofsted also inspects and regulates services that care for children and young people. A 'children's home' is required to be Ofsted registered.

Our client's care model is to replicate normal family life for these children as close as possible. However, the key difference is this: whilst adults would be at the house looking after the children around the clock, none of them would be residing at the property permanently (as they would work in shifts). Without an adult being permanently resident, they could not be considered a "household" for the purposes of C3. So even though it may look and feel indistinguishable from any other C3 dwellinghouse on the same road (as it should), it would technically in fact be a C2 'children's home'.

We are very happy to report that we have recently received planning permission from Bexley Council.



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