Letter to Housing Minister regarding Discrimination in the planning system
published on 09 July 2023
Rachel Mclean MP Minister of State (Housing and Planning)
Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
Subject: Proposal for Statutory Instrument to Enable Permitted Development from C3 to C2 for Small Children's Homes
I hope this letter finds you well. I write to you today with a sense of urgency and a deep commitment to the well-being of vulnerable children who are in desperate need of safe and nurturing homes. It is crucial that we address the challenges faced by local authorities in providing sufficient residential accommodation and support for our children in care, while also combating the stigma and discrimination that plagues our planning system.
As per the Town and Country Planning Act, there are various usage classes that dictate the type of developments permitted within the planning framework. However, the existing classifications fail to adequately reflect the evolving nature of residential establishments, particularly those serving vulnerable children. We propose a comprehensive solution that addresses these issues and ensures better outcomes for children in need.
We urge the creation of a statutory instrument that grants permitted development rights, enabling the change of use from C3 (Family Dwellings) to C2 (Residential Establishments). This should allow for the establishment of small children's homes catering to one, two, or three residents, ensuring a nurturing and supportive environment for these vulnerable children.
Alternatively, we propose a solution through statutory guidance. By confirming that small children's homes can come under the usage class C3(b), you can provide local authorities and providers with more flexibility and clarity when establishing these vital residential settings.
The current planning system perpetuates stigma and discrimination towards care-experienced individuals every time a planning application or application for a certificate of lawfulness mentioning children in the care system is submitted. Negative and unfounded objections based on prejudices against care-experienced people are commonplace, further exacerbating their feelings of marginalisation and unworthiness.
Here are some examples of discriminatory statements made in objections to planning applications:
- "The presence of children from the care system will lower the value of our properties and increase crime rates in the area."
- "Children from children's homes are prone to antisocial behaviour and will disturb the peace in our community."
- "We do not want our neighbourhood associated with troubled kids. It will ruin the character of our community."
- "The house resides immediately adjacent to a playing field for young children, summer months including football, tennis, cricket, rounders, my children learnt to ride bikes on this field, again suitable?"
- "This is inappropriate as this is a residential estate housing families with young children and with no amenities. These will be troubled young people, it is setting them up to fail. The risk of them absconding is great and nearby transport links would enable them to get anywhere easily"
- "Looking at the number of objections, these vulnerable young people will not be welcomed into the community. Perhaps the applicant should consider a more appropriate location for this kind of development."
- "I know these kids need somewhere to stay, but surely not in the middle of a residential area?"
Minister, it is essential that we have a planning system that reflects the reality of children's homes today. These establishments are no longer large institutions but rather small, family-like environments that prioritise individualised person-cantered care and positive outcomes for the children residing within them. By streamlining the planning process for small children's homes, we can alleviate opposition and discrimination, enabling local authorities and providers to create homes in their own areas more affordably and efficiently.
An easier planning system that grants permitted development rights or confirms usage class C3(b) for small children's homes will significantly benefit local authorities. It will reduce opposition, eliminate unnecessary delays, and allow accommodation to be created in the places they are needed based on the genuine needs of the children. This will result in cost savings, enhanced community integration, and improved outcomes for vulnerable children.
We implore you to consider the following actions:
- Statutory Instrument: Develop a statutory instrument that includes permitted development rights from usage class C3 to C2 specifically for small children's homes accommodating one, two, or three individuals.
- Statutory Guidance: Issue clear and comprehensive statutory guidance confirming that small children's homes fall under usage class C3(b), ensuring a consistent approach across local authorities.
Housing Minister, the time to act is now. We must eradicate the stigma and discrimination faced by care-experienced individuals and provide them with the safe, loving homes they deserve.
We recognise that local authority commissioners and social care departments should have a say in what children’s homes are created in their areas, and we know that this is a conversation that needs to be had with them and Ofsted. That conversation should establish who decides on the suitability of a location.
At present providers must apply for planning permission or a certificate of lawfulness. Part of the decision on whether to grant registration at Ofsted is the requirement to demonstrate planning, such as a certificate of lawfulness.
In many areas across the country there are applications for certificates of lawfulness that whip up hysteria in the community when what is being applied for is a small home of 2/3 children living as one in a family like setting with no material change.
Foster carers don’t have to apply for planning or certificates of lawfulness because it is accepted that what they are doing is lawful. They don’t have to apply for certificates of lawfulness. We believe children in small family like children’s homes should not be indirectly discriminated against because the staff who look after them don’t live on site.
Across the two-tier local authority system in England we have district councils deciding planning applications and certificates of lawfulness when they don’t provide children’s social care services so will not necessarily know whether a location is appropriate and needed. There is meant to be consultation between the lower and upper tier, but sometimes those relationships are very strained.
Making an order for permitted development or clarifying that usage class C3(b) is lawful for small children’s homes registered with Ofsted would be a similar concept to permitted development rights for usage class C3 to usage class C4 (HMO).
Those changes reduced barriers nationally for the creation of multiple occupancy houses so more people had access to housing.
Local authorities have introduced controls by using S4(1) of The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 - Directions restricting permitted development of C3 – to C4. Article 4 could be used for children’s homes. When these orders are in place the Local Authority then maintains control of their area and permitted development is revoked. *1
Although for planning act purposes a property in usage class C3(b) is not a HMO but does fall within the HMO definition within the Housing act unless it is a registered provider of social housing.
Children’s home providers are not normally (Housing Act) registered providers. Therefore they would be subject to mandatory HMO licensing when 5 or more people reside. Or additional localised licensing schemes such as selective or additional HMO of 2 household/3 people would apply if they were in place.
The point being that whilst there is a case for you as Housing Minister to do nothing in relation to this issue because there is a requirement that children’s homes are not created in areas where they are not appropriate. And local authorities need some control over that.
You could remove the barriers by clarifying through statutory guidance that usage class 3(b) for small children’s homes was lawful provided they were registered by Ofsted, or you could issue a permitted development order in respect of C3 to C2. The decision on whether the location was appropriate would then be decided when the home is registered at Ofsted.
My preferred option would be a permitted development order C3 to C2 for small children’s homes and supported accommodation that is subject to the Supported accommodation Regulations 2023 because otherwise providers may fall under licensing schemes when Ofsted registration should be sufficient.
There are 164 planning authorities (districts) in England that don’t have social care departments and are not experts when it comes to children looked after. But should you take this step those lower tier authorities would still have at their disposal the Article 4 directive to control/revoke permitted development rights if they felt that they needed to.
I implore you to seize this opportunity to make a lasting and positive impact on the lives of these children. By enacting the proposed statutory instrument or issuing comprehensive statutory guidance, you can champion a fair and inclusive planning system that supports local authorities in their mission to provide safe and nurturing homes for vulnerable children.
You can demonstrate good corporate parenting by taking responsibility and help to eliminate the stigma and discrimination that children in care and care leavers face on a daily basis.
Thank you for your attention to this critical matter. I eagerly await your decisive action and am available to provide any further information or support that may be required.
The Right Honourable Gillian Keegan MP Secretary of State for Education
Amanda Spielman Ofsted Chief Inspector