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Walton retirement complex in planning ageism row

19 Oct 20 Insurance giant Legal & General is going into PR overdrive in its attempts to get planning permission for a retirement complex in the Surrey town of Walton-on-Thames.

The planned development in Walton-on-Thames (n.b. Old people not shown)
The planned development in Walton-on-Thames (n.b. Old people not shown)

Local planning officers have advised councillors to turn down the application from Legal & General’s Guild Living business when they meet on 20th October saying it is the wrong development for the town.

In response, Legal & General has complained to the local MP, foreign secretary Dominic Raab, of the council's ageism and marshalled the support of Age Concern and a leading gerontologist.

The proposed scheme by Guild Living would see a retirement village built on the site of a former Homebase in Walton-on-Thames by one of the developer’s framework contractors, Wates, Morgan Sindall or Sir Robert McAlpine.

The developers take objection to some of the wording of the Elmbridge Borough Council planning officer’s report, which says: “The application fails to support diversity in the town centre, it fails to add to the centre’s competitiveness and would undermine the vitality and viability of [the] town centre.”

By implying that old people lack vitality, the developers say, and therefore grounds for dismissing the planning application, represents a breach of the Equality Act 2010, the developers say.

They also dispute the assertion that: “There is no urgent need for the delivery of any more nursing care bed spaces in Elmbridge for a foreseeable future.”

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Legal & General’s campaign team contacted Dorah May, chief officer of Age Concern Epsom, who said: “To suggest that more older residents in Walton-on-Thames town centre will do nothing to enhance the area’s ‘vitality’ is misguided, inaccurate and, above all, deeply offensive.

“We urge Elmbridge Borough Council to withdraw such ludicrous comments and see this planning application for what it is — an opportunity to set a benchmark for how Surrey and Britain as a whole should be looking after the elderly.”

Prof Malcolm Johnson, from the Channel 4 TV show The Old People’s Home for 4-year-olds, is on Guild Living’s payroll as a research advisor. He has been professor of health and social policy at the University of Bristol (now emeritus) since 1995 and is visiting professor of gerontology and end of life care at the University of Bath. He said:  “As an academic researcher, who over a long career has been invited to work with and advise many policy making bodies, I am familiar with the age-old prejudices of those who present older people as ‘the burden of society’ and make unevidenced generalisations about 20% of our population. That is what’s happening here. I am shocked, but not surprised.”

Phil Bayliss, CEO of Later Living at Legal & General and chairman of Guild Living, said: “It is a matter of great concern that Elmbridge Borough Council is seemingly unaware of both its duty to protect its growing population of older people, but also of a potential breach of the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits public authorities acting in a discriminatory way, including discrimination on the basis of age.

“Far from depleting ‘vitality’ in the town centre, this project would place older people where they belong — right in the heart of their community — while supporting the local economy and delivering on Elmbridge Council’s obligation to provide adequate housing for older people. It is my sincerest hope that the council will have a change of both heart and mind and withdraws its recommendation for refusal.”

An Elmbridge Borough Council spokesperson told us: “Application 2020/0832 is due to be considered by the council’s planning committee on 20th October 2020 at 5pm and has not yet been determined. The application has been assessed against the council’s adopted planning policies and the NPPF which seek to ensure that development in the borough meet the identified housing need. As part of this assessment officers have considered the need for elderly accommodation as well as the need for smaller market and affordable homes. The council strongly refutes the unfounded allegation.”

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