Councillor rebuked for ‘inflammatory’ concentration camp comments
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
A councillor who likened a children’s residential home to a concentration camp was rebuked by one of his colleagues in a meeting.
Cllr Richard Lewis made the comment in a planning committee meeting during a discussion about a young people’s residential home proposed in Brynhyfryd, Swansea.
The comment, however, referred to a previous application for a children’s home on Oystermouth Road, which the committee narrowly approved last month.
Cllr Lewis had objected to the Oystermouth Road children’s home and said he felt the one planned in Brynhyfryd was similar.
The Conservative ward member for Gower and former Lord Mayor of Swansea said he believed the Oystermouth Road home’s location was “dangerous”, and that colleagues who had voted in favour of it “will live to regret that one”.
He said the outdoor area at the Oystermouth Road home wasn’t big enough to swing a cat in, and added: “For the kids to go in that sort of area, it was like a concentration camp.”
Cllr Will Evans interjected to ask why Cllr Lewis was referring to a previous scheme while Cllr Des Thomas, speaking shortly afterwards, said: “A lot of inflammatory remarks have been made, which is unnecessary really.”
He said he was referring to Cllr Lewis concentration camp comment.
The committee heard that the four-bedroom, end-of-terrace home on Brynhyfryd Street would accommodate a maximum of three 15 to 19-year-olds, who would be supported one-to-one and given training and work opportunities in construction.
Swansea’s social services department was consulted on the application, submitted by Bespoke Care Group Ltd, and said it was concerned at the number of children’s homes in Swansea. It said it would prefer a location with more internal and external space than that provided on Brynhyfryd Street but said it knew the provider, which “provides a degree of confidence”.
The application led to a petition of objection, signed by 33 people, and 14 objection letters. Parking, noise and anti-social behaviour concerns were raised.
Ward councillors Chris Holley and Peter Black urged the committee to refuse the application on parking and overcrowding grounds given, they said, that three young adults and three adult supervisors could be based there at the same time.
Cllr Mary Jones said she felt social services’s comments, which a planning officer said were not a formal objection, should be heeded. “If that’s not an objection, I don’t know what is,” she said.
Cllr Paulette Smith said she felt the location was “totally wrong” for a residential home although she said she wanted the young people to have somewhere to live.
A planning report before the committee included a statement from Bespoke Care Group, which sought to allay concerns.
It said: “After work or work-based training in the days the young people will be going to the gym, football or rugby training etc just like any other child of that age would be doing.
“We are employed as corporate parents for these young people which deserve a chance of a decent future just like any other child.
“Please just remember these children just want a fair shot at life and the service we offer is their way to obtain that.”
Cllr Thomas said he felt several issues raised in the meeting were not planning ones, and added that regulator Care Inspectorate Wales would decide if the facilities were suitable.
“We’ve got think of the children the accommodation is for,” he said. “They deserve a decent place to live. They are not going to be youngsters who are going to terrorise the place.
“These people need a decent start in life.”
The vote was tied, resulting in planning committee chairman, Cllr Paul Lloyd, using his casting vote to approve the application.