Concerned Nuthall residents turned out in droves to discuss a controvertial planning application last night.
Some 200 people attended the public meeting at Nuthall’s Methodist Church, Nottingham Road, to raise questions over a planned children’s home which has been slammed for not allowing enough public interaction going under the radar of Nottinghamshire County Council’s child services committee.
Members of Nottinghamshire County Council and Paul Cook, managing director of G4S Children’s Services fielded questions from concerned members of the wider community.
The panel of speakers, including Steve Edwards, children’s service director at NCC, were met with questions of the suitability of the building, 1A Roland Avenue, the lack of adequate local amenities available for them to use and why the contract was given to G4S.
When faced with questions of the appropriateness of the planned building and it’s location, G4S Children’s Services MD Paul Cook said: “We need to ensure it meets the location assessment and has the right location for children with local schools and amenities.”
The answer was met with jeering from the crowd who ask “What amenities?”
They asked: “Why this property? It’s on a roundabout, there’s no back garden - it’s not a home. The people who owned this property before used it as a motorcycle business.”
One woman in the crowd asked: “Are you aware that you have chosen a building that is close to the busiest roundabout in the East Midlands, that it has a very dangerous underpass which attracts antisocial behaviour, that the local Spar shop already has a problem with antisocial behaviour and we only have to look at the police alerts to see the amount of antisocial behaviour in the area. There is no youth club, no garden, so what exactly are they going to do except congregate around the local bus stop?”
Mr Edwards answered: “I’m sure the people involved in making the planning decision will consider those.
Mr Cook added: “We look at the size of the property and the space outside.
“There’s no ideal property and we liaise with police on what they think the best location is. It is also put before Ofsted. There will be others to judge if that is a location that they give planning permission for.
“No property is risk free. We have to look at what risks there are and how we can manage those risks.”
The crowd jeered upon hearing that none of the speakers on the panel had visited the property themselves.
Some residents were concerned about the kinds of children that would be coming into their community.
Mr Edwards said: “We haven’t identified individuals yet but they will have had a lot of damaging life experiences.”
G4S claims that 85 per cent of its children are in full time education, and Mr Edwards said that the profile of children entering the home does not include offenders with serious criminal records.
He said: “These children are not coming into care because they have done bad things in their community.
“These are children who we think have been damaged by their life experiences. I would never put a group of children together who we think would inflict damage on the community.
“If we start to experience problems we have the flexibility to move children around.”
Children with serious criminal records are in a secure unit at Clayfields, Stapleford, he added.
Mr Cook added: “We have 48 children at the moment, and none of my children at the moment have got criminal records.
“Some might have had a caution,” he added.
He was met with jeers from the crowd when he pitched for sympathy by saying “they are really your children”.
One local man said: “I am surprised NCC have given the contract to G4S.
“To me G4S is a private security firm - wonderful at the Olympics. I know that then boss Nick Buckles apologised for the “humiliating shambles”, but he still wanted £57 million for the management support that they provided.
“G4S provided airport security at the 9/11 events - they tagged a prisoner on his false leg. I don’t supposed they have organised any events in breweries.”
Claire from Nuthall said after the meeting: “There was no getting away from the basic fact that none of the panel members had actually personally visited the property and couldn’t state with confidence what the local amenities for these children were, which had been listed as one of the reasons for siting the home here – schools (overfull) and shops, which already have an anti social behaviour problem.”
Nuthall councillor at Broxtowe Borough Council Paul Simpson said: “For the three of them to stand there and say they haven’t been to the property.
“We’ve all obviously got great concerns about the locality of this particular project. All we can do is work via the planning committee and try and get it tossed out.”
G4S won a tender for a Block Contract Placement after a policy decision to bring more of Nottinghamshire’s looked after children back into the county.
It’s planning application with Broxtowe Borough Council, to change the use of the property to house up to five 10 to 17-year-olds, is in its consultation period until March 27.
The vast majority of looked after children have been victims of abuse and neglect and while more than 60 per cent are in fostering it is incredibly difficult to place older children, aged 10-17, with alternative families. Many of them also prefer to be in shared homes than placed with families, added Mr Edwards.
He told the Advertiser: “We always take people’s concerns into considering. We’ve listened, we do take the concerns seriously and we are going to have to reflect on them before making a decision.”