After some 90 minutes of discussion, councillors backed the recommendation of planning officers to reject the application. Concerns expressed ranged from the scale and mass of the £100m development, which they considered inappropriate for the location, to the adequacy of parking provision. They also noted that there was already surplus capacity at other later living developments in the Surrey town.
In the days before the 20th October online planning meeting, Legal & General, parent company of later living developer Guild Living, secured widespread publicity for accusing the council of ageism for opposing its plans.
“Fury as council says it does not want OAPs living in town centre” was the headline in the Daily Express, which is not an accurate report of the planning officer’s recommendations – merely Legal & General’s interpretation of it.
The council issued this statement:
“Application 2020/0832 for 222 units of care accommodation with associated communal facilities was refused by the Planning Committee on 20 October 2020. The agenda, including the officer’s report is available to view at mygov.elmbridge.gov.uk.
“We recognise the importance of our responsibilities under the 2010 Equality Act and we are confident that the our report does not discriminate either directly or indirectly on the grounds of age. It does not discriminate towards the people who might occupy the accommodation, but is an assessment of the merits of the scheme considered against the National Planning Policy Framework and our own adopted planning policies and other material considerations.
“The conclusion that care accommodation is unacceptable should not be viewed in isolation, it is a summation of the detailed analysis of the local need for this type of accommodation, including the concentrated supply in Walton town centre, compared with other much needed accommodation such as one and two bedroom homes for families, as well as the failure to consider alternative mixed use schemes including different types of housing and retail / entertainment units.
“No one can deny that Elmbridge works hard not only support older people in our community but to help them thrive. We have seven Centres for the Community around the borough, each catering for the needs of our older people and running classes and support sessions on a range of subjects from iPad lessons to zumba classes and everything in between. Our community transport provides an essential life line for our older residents and allows them access to shops and entertainment in the borough. It is the aim of this council and the countless volunteers who supports us, to ensure older people lead happy, active and healthy lives in Elmbridge.”