KNAPHILL residents are up in arms because they were not consulted about the imminent transfer of mental healthcare patients from a purpose-built home on Bagshot Road into properties in their neighbourhoods.
Local councillors had not been notified either and therefore felt unsuitably equipped to adequately respond to villagers’ worries.
Cllr Melanie Whitehand said: “We fully support the residents with their concerns, but it would have been helpful to have been informed beforehand.”
Boundary Cottage in Grindstone Crescent and 57 Robin Hood Road have been bought by private mental healthcare company Comfort Care.
Both properties are being refurbished with the aim of moving six long-term patients, mostly from The Meadows’ 24-bedroom home, which has 13 clients remaining.
Villagers only caught wind of the move via Holy Trinity Church’s vicar, Nick Crew, after a Grindstone Crescent resident asked about the building work going on. An emergency meeting took place last Thursday.
Although publicity was kept low key, more than 60 people turned up, including Knaphill councillors Richard Sharp and Saj Hussain, a representative from the NHS Foundation Trust and Comfort Care manager Abdul Sattar.
Mother of two Fiona Copper said: “We didn’t get any answers. NHS reps were unable to provide assurances potential clients would not be registered sex offenders.
“We therefore feel that, given the number of families with children in the immediate vicinity, and the numbers using the footpath and nearby common, this property is entirely unsuitable for the purpose for which it is intended.”
Cllr Sharp said: “It was a heated meeting. It is the local planning authority’s current belief that it does not require a ‘Change of Use’ permission, but these clearly are not ‘households’.
“NHS and Surrey County Council need to be clear about the services they commission. Residents should not be in potential danger.”
Cllr Hussain said: “I am 100 per cent behind residents. The Meadows facility was purpose-built for Brookwood Hospital patients. Why can’t Comfort Care purchase or rent it and adapt it to suit current policy? Some patients have been there all their lives.”
Cllr Whitehand added: “A major concern is not the people from The Meadows – they are mostly in their twilight years and harmless – but it is about who will live there in
future after they’ve gone.”
Fiona said: “Of particular concern is that the areas immediately to the front and side of Boundary Cottage are common land well used by children and local people.
“The footpath directly adjacent to the property is a major thoroughfare for pedestrians and pupils heading to and from both Knaphill Lower and Junior Schools as well as Knaphill Village.”
Mother of three Kate Trice said: “My main concern is that I was going to let my son Max, who’ll be in Year 6, walk home from Knaphill Junior School next term, but not now.
“I would be put out of my comfort zone if these patients are moved in – it is the unknown. This situation is curtailing my son’s and a lot of people’s freedom.” Kate’s fears were echoed by other parents as well as grandparents.
Holly Udobang said: “One of the big windows of the house looks over my back garden and I have three young children. What am I supposed to do?”
Alison Szarvas, a neighbour of the Robin Hood Road property, said: “One room is on the ground floor because the patient is bed-ridden. I don’t see how that can constitute ‘independent living’.
“We don’t think there has been suitable thought or valuation with so many young children around it – and some of them are vulnerable.”
Resident Phil Ginever added: “They say they have done risk assessments on clients but no one has assessed the risk to the community.”
Although there is 24-hour care at The Meadows, it is understood that each property’s one appointed care worker will be on a visiting basis only.
Comfort Care manager Mr Sattar said they would be shopping and cooking for clients. It is also believed they will be overseeing medications.
But Cllr Sharp admitted: “There are a lot of grey areas. People don’t think a service of this nature can be provided without warning and without any appropriate control, and I agree with this.
“It is classed as ‘Independent Living Accommodation’. I believe that if you are running a care home, which it is, it should be registered and regulated by the Care Quality Commission, which Comfort Care are not. Guidance seems the provision of care should be professional, not simply support.”
Cllr Hussain said: “I am very disappointed in the choice of locations. They are totally inappropriate.
“There should be regulations in place to ensure the accommodation is away from family areas.
“I am going to be pushing both the borough and county councils to introduce a new policy to regulate where the private residential services operate.
“I will be putting forward a question to the borough council on Thursday.”
A statement issued by the NHS Foundation Trust, who own the building, said: “The Meadows opened in the mid-1990s to support 24 people following the closure of Brookwood Hospital.
“The way mental health services are provided has changed significantly and today we support people to enable them to live more independent lives in smaller, more homely environments.
“We have, in agreement with commissioners, decided to close The Meadows as larger homes such as this are no longer considered best practice for individual care and support.”
NHS communications officer Susie Hartley said: “There are no plans as to what they will do with the land. Our focus is to make sure the transition goes as smoothly as possible for everyone concerned.”
A year ago the News & Mail covered a story involving private mental healthcare company Alpha purchasing a property in Knaphill’s Victoria Road.
Residents were outraged when they found out the company’s true intentions were to house five vulnerable teenage girls plus a resident carer.
They formed an action group, leafleted the neighbourhood and called a meeting, to which council chief executive Ray Morgan attended.
Alpha representatives declined to attend and, under public pressure, withdrew their plans and the house was put back on the market.
Although under current planning regulations, the maximum of six individuals residing in a property does not require permission for Change of Use, residents believe they should be consulted if occupiers are from mental healthcare services.
One of the properties is to house six clients from The Meadows, the other will home three, but it is not known where the other three will come from.
Meanwhile residents are gathering a petition, and are lobbying for support.
Although the council say they are not party to the decision, in a statement Mr Morgan said: “The council is aware of the concerns about the decision of Comfort Care to close The Meadows and accommodate its residents in the community.
“This approach is consistent with Government policy. As far as I am aware Comfort Care have taken the necessary steps they are obliged to do in respect of these changes.
“The council have received representations that planning consent was required and, whilst officers did not consider a Change of Use application was required, the position is currently being reviewed.”