FURIOUS Knaphill residents battling a private company’s plans to move mental healthcare patients into a house in their street turned out in force for an emergency meeting.
The Victoria Road Action Against Alpha Hospitals Group called the meeting after finding out that the property at No.14 bought by Alpha was not in fact to accommodate staff – as the vendors and estate agents had been led to believe – but to house five 14 to 18-year-old female patients, within a four-house radius where 23 young children live. Builders had already been moved in without warning.
Although Alpha had refused numerous requests to send a representative, Woking Borough Council chief executive Ray Morgan, local councillors Melanie Whitehand and Saj Hussain, 38 residents and the Woking News & Mail attended the meeting on Friday at the St Hugh of Lincoln Church in Victoria Road.
After three weeks of being “fobbed off’, the group had made up to a dozen invitations to the private healthcare company to send a representative to make them accountable.I understand the stress caused. I am here to see if we can reconcile the situation
All were refused without explanation – repeatedly saying they would meet individuals only.
Questions were emailed to the hospital but were either not answered at all, side-stepped or answers changed.
Apologies had been received from the council for their lack of communication. A formal complaint had been made to them but with a waiting time of seven days. And the group had written to MP Jonathon Lord who was unable to attend but wants to be updated on the situation.
James Trotter, who lives next door to the property with his wife and three young children said: “My home has been valued at £475,000 but, an estate agent said, if the house next door does become a care home, the value will drop by £100,000.
‘We have no problem with nurses moving in.”
Mr Morgan said: “I understand the stress caused. I am here to see if we can reconcile the situation.
“Council officers have advised Alpha to make an application for its legal use. This is an application for a Certificate of Lawfulness. If it complies, Alpha will be able to proceed. If not, they will have to go through a formal planning application.”
When asked about the deceitful way the company had bought the house, Mr Morgan said: “I am not in a position to speak for Alpha on the subject of being misled. I will take it up with their senior management.
“The house is not the same as the hospital. It is about moving people on in settled accommodation. It could be my daughter, your son… these could be our children. I can personally speak as I lived near a house in the same position in Gloucestershire where there was no problem.”
A resident said: “Is that why you moved here, then?”
Mr Morgan said: “We do need a dialogue with the company and to look at how do we help manage this situation.”
Mr Morgan said: “I have come here to find a way to address the issues. I have not come here to make it stop.”
Another resident said: “I worked in a home in Camden for 14 to 18-year-old girls and I can guarantee you there would be a blow-up three or four times a week – windows broken, furniture smashed up… I promise you it will be mayhem.”
Mr Morgan replied: “Let’s not stigmatise these children.”
Asked what degree of mental issues the patients may have, he said: “Some children will have different conditions. I don’t know who these people will be. There is an absence of clarity. I am happy to come back and answer all your questions.”
When asked what do the neighbours do if the patients move in and then kick off, Mr Morgan said: “We need to find out what constitutes ‘disturbance’, ‘inappropriate conduct’ – we need it defined.”
When compared to ‘normal’ teenagers’ behaviour, another resident responded: “When they play their music too loud, you just knock on the door and ask them to turn it down. You can’t do that if you don’t know who’s going to answer the door and what reception you might get.
“We want to know what the protocol is if something happens – management, Alpha…”
Mr Morgan said: “If things did get out of hand and I am unable to overturn the process, I will seek authority from the council to intervene and buy out Alpha.
“What I might seek to do is a back-to-back deal with Alpha for the council to buy the property from them and house a family in it.
“But the deal goes both ways – from you residents too.”
It was pointed out that the neighbourhood officer is also very concerned about what the police might have to deal with.
A resident said: “You should have at least two carers in a house of five teenagers, which will make the total seven and therefore it’s a business.
And: “If the clients are in the house for only six months, as we have been told, they are transient and therefore not resident.”
Another resident asked: “It is a profitable opportunity for Alpha – doesn’t that make it a business?”
Mr Morgan said: “It is a private business with the NHS. This is exactly the same. Yes Alpha will make a profit, just as your GP does and NHS dentists. The point of delivery is part of NHS services.”
To which a resident replied: “But I don’t think my doctor or dentist are mentally disturbed.”
James Trotter added: “We were planning to spend the rest of our lives living here. If it goes ahead, why don’t you buy my house and move in, lose £100,000, because we do not want to live here.”
Mr Morgan concluded: “The first stage will be for Alpha to apply for Certificate of Lawfulness via the council. And state what they will do in writing.”
He has said that he will seek to get Alpha to commit to taking no action to commission the operation at 14, Victoria Road, until the council has been able to determine the planning use of the property.
If it is established as a lawful use he will endeavour to establish with them the precise nature of use and a protocol that would secure reasonable operation to avoid local disturbance and to remedy any events should they arise.
He will also seek an exit route if possible should the need arise.
Mr Morgan is seeking to secure a letter from Alpha to residents to this effect by Friday, July 13.
He has requested a ‘cooling off period’ of no public activity against this intended use while he pursues these matters.