Specialist care home for children with autism set for Derbyshire village

today15 September 2022 1

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A specialist care home for children with autism and other complex mental health needs is to be set up in a Derbyshire village. Plans from Bridgeford Capital Limited will see the former Young Explorers Day Nursery in Old Road, Darley Dale, turned into a specialist care home.

The building was originally built as a private home in the mid-1800s and is said to require £300,000 worth of repairs. At a Derbyshire Dales District Council meeting this week councillors approved the plans to convert the current dilapidated building, which closed in August 2021 after 20 years, and bring it back into use.

This was against the recommendations of planning officers who said council policy details that a community building must be marketed at a reasonable rate for 12 months before it can be taken out of use. However, Adam Maxwell, a district council planning officer, said the property had only been marketed for 28 days and for £1.2 million.

Read more: Get the latest politics stories from Derbyshire Live

Councillors said the authority’s policy on community buildings needed to be rewritten and that this particular scheme was an ideal example of why it should be changed. Martin Gerrelli, one of the applicants, told this week’s meeting: “I intend to bring back to life a much more impactful community facility which delivers greater social value outputs than the nursery or any other mainstream community facility could do.

“Young Explorers was closed by the current owners because of three key issues. It was no longer economically viable due to: new methods of working regulations, increased costs and growing competition. Following Covid and changes of working patterns it became even more challenging.

“It required many hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of investment to bring it up to a standard with its competition. It was demonstrated through some local market analysis that a year after the closure of Young Explorers there was a significant oversupply of nursery spaces throughout the immediate area.”

He said the new use would be a Transforming Care facility, an NHS-backed scheme aimed at providing facilities for children and young people with learning disabilities, mental health difficulties and/or autism. Mr Gerrelli said: “There simply isn’t enough provision at the moment in Derbyshire, including locally.”

He said the scheme had numerous benefits, including: “Regenerating and preserving the building, providing much-needed complex care provision and creating circa 50 full-time well-paid, skilled jobs – well above the national minimum wage.” Mr Gerrelli said there was an “urgent need” for the facility.

In response, Mr Maxwell outlined the council’s policy on community buildings, saying: “We accept there is a demonstrated county need for the proposed accommodation but this accommodation would not necessarily meet the need of the district and the care home would not be open to the public in the same way that a community facility normally would be. We accept there is evidence that a nursery is no longer needed to serve the local community and we accept that the development would provide employment.

“The property has been marketed for 28 days at a price of £1.2 million, therefore officers don’t consider that the application has currently justified the loss of a community facility.” Cllr Peter Slack called for the plans to be approved, saying the scheme could “fall apart” if the applicant was told to come back after the building had been marketed for 12 months.

He said: “There are young people needing this requirement and it is only a small change of use. I’m amazed that you have come up with this 12-month rule. I think you are putting this in jeopardy by imposing this. You need to be thinking about what is best for the community.

“In Derbyshire an enormous amount of young people need this help. You are going to destroy this by doing this (rejecting it due to the lack of 12 months’ marketing).” Cllr Garry Purdy, leader of the council, said that with members already admitting that the policy around marketing for community facilities needs to be reviewed, they ought to approve the scheme.

He said: “It would be wholly unfair to stop an applicant who is obviously passionate and dedicated to wanting to provide care in our community and I think it would be wrong of us to say no because they have got to wait 12 months to market it.” Chris Whitmore, the council’s development manager, said that officers did find the scheme acceptable, if sufficient marketing had been carried out, but said their hands were tied by the authority’s policies.

Cllr Richard FitzHerbert said: “What are we going to do with this building? It is not exactly in tip-top condition. We have an empty building which needs assistance and investment. We have an applicant who is prepared to invest in it, in the Derbyshire Dales, to create 50 jobs because it is a specialist market. There is a need for this particular facility.

“We would be mad to turn it down. I am right behind it.” Cllr Sue Burfoot said: “It would be specialist provision for really quite complex needs of young people and we need this.

“To sort of refuse it on the basis that we have not adhered to our policy, well we have got to be a bit flexible sometimes. I think we should thank them for wanting to provide it and I wish them well with it.” The facility, following renovation, would include three bedrooms along with two staff rooms, a staff kitchen and dining room, along with a 31-space car park.

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