Later living business of L&G claims officers’ recommendation for refusal breaks equality laws
The developer behind plans for a new retirement village in Walton-on-Thames has accused the local council of “ageism” after it recommended that the scheme be refused.
Guild Living, an arm of insurance giant L&G, said it had received legal advice that the recommendation for refusal of the 222-home scheme on the site of a former Homebase was in breach of the 2010 Equalities Act. It claimed that the decision was based on the fact that the home is aimed at older people.
The council said it strongly refuted the accusation of ageism and said the application, which is due to be determined by the council’s planning committee tomorrow, had been assessed by officers against both council and national planning policy.
In a report recommending that the scheme be turned down, Elmbridge council said there was “no short or medium-term need” for elderly accommodation in the town, while there was a massive need for housing generally, and thus the scheme would not make efficient use of land – a requirement under national planning policy.
It also said that the scheme “fails to add to the centre’s competitiveness and would undermine the vitality and viability of town centre”.
Elmbridge said the scheme did not qualify in planning terms as a residential care institution, and therefore should be required to contribute affordable housing.
Guild Living chief executive Phil Bayliss has now written an open letter to the local MP, foreign secretary Dominic Raab, in which he accused Elmbridge council of “clear unlawful age discrimination”.
In it, Bayliss said: “Plainly, any decision not to grant planning permission simply because the intended residents will be elderly is a means of treating such people less favourably because of their age, which is a protected characteristic under the Act.”
The letter continued: “The council appears to have proceeded on a gross misunderstanding regarding elderly people and their contribution to the local economy and society. Accordingly, we believe this decision would constitute clear unlawful age discrimination.”
He added that Guild would appeal against any refusal, seeking costs against the council “due to the misguided and unsubstantiated nature of the reasons for refusal”, which would “further waste public funds at a time when these could be better directed elsewhere”.
Guild has also secured the support of campaiginers for the elderly. Dorah May, chief officer at Age Concern Epsom, urged the council to withdraw its report. She 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.”
Dan Tench, a partner at Guild’s legal advisor, law firm CMS, said: “It would seem that the refusal to grant planning permission here would be very likely to constitute treating older people less favourably than others. It would be unlawful discrimination unless the local authority can show that it was a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.”
Elmbridge’s recommendation for refusal pointed out that existing care homes and retirement communities in the area had a significant number of vacancies, indicating there was not an unmet need for this type of accommodation.
However, Bayliss said he still hoped that the council would have a change of heart. He said: “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.”
The row comes in the week that the trade body for the retirement community sector – ARCO – called for a government taskforce to examine the obstacles preventing the development of housing with care for older people.
A spokesperson for Elmbridge council said: “The application has been assessed against the council’s adopted planning policies and the National Planning Policy Framework, which seek to ensure that development in the borough meets 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.”