Confusion over whether covenants can end council's children's home plan

First published in News

CONFUSION has arisen over whether a council can use a house it has bought for £400,000 as a children’s home.

Stockton Borough Council has bought the Old Vicarage in Stillington so it can be used as a home for five vulnerable children.

If change-of-use planning permission is granted by the council’s planning committee, the home will be run by the Spark of Genius organisation at a profit.

However, one of the Church of England covenants on the property, seen by The Northern Echo, states that it must be used for residential use only, not as a business.

Coun David Harrington, Stockton council’s Cabinet Member for Corporate Management and Finance, said he didn’t believe the covenant would present a problem.

“We were aware of the covenant restrictions on the property in Stillington and took legal advice prior to purchasing it. The legal advice received confirmed that these restrictions would not preclude use as a children’s home,” he said.

However, a spokesman for the Durham Diocese of the Church of England, who would have the power to enforce, waive or sell the covenant, said the Church was still looking into the matter. It was not the Church who sold the property, but the religious organisation’s covenants still stand.

The spokesman said: ““At the moment a legal team is looking into the issue of a covenant with regard to this proposal and we will respond in due course.”

One resident, who did not wish to be named but had a copy of the covenants, said: “There’s a lot of talk in the village that this is a done deal, but I don’t see how, if the Church enforces this covenant, it can go ahead.”

There has been a lot of opposition in the village to the children’s home and, at a public meeting, many people expressed concern that the council had not informed the public of its intentions before buying the property. However, the council has said offering the best possible chance to the borough’s vulnerable youngsters is paramount.

The house was bought as part of a £2m scheme to allow the council to bring 20 children, aged from eight to 18, back to the area by buying four residential properties. The authority has already refurbished King Edwin School, in Stockton, and expects to save £400,000-a-year by bringing children currently sent elsewhere back to Stockton.

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