Blackburn mental health unit plans deferred amid bogus objections probe

AN INVESTIGATION is underway into fraudulent letters objecting to a proposed mental health home. It has emerged objections were sent on behalf of at least three people living near the Bear Hotel, Cravens Brow, Blackburn, without their knowledge.

Council bosses are now trying to work out the scale of the fraud, which was revealed when the plans came before councillors tonight.

William Pearse, the owner of the Bear Hotel, wants to convert it into a home for people with ‘medium to high levels of mental need’.

But residents have protested against the scheme, and around 20 came to Blackburn town hall for tonight’s meeting of Blackburn with Darwen council’s planning committee.

The plans had been recommended for approval, but the committee voted to defer a decision, meaning it will come before a future meeting in the New Year.

Planning officer Alastair Phillips told the committee three people had contacted the council after being invited to the meeting, to say they had not submitted letters of objection.

He said: “It does appear, unfortunately, that a number of letters have been sent fraudulently.”

The meeting then almost descended into farce as the plans were debated. A member of the audience angrily interrupted the debate, shouting down the chairman, and two separate votes were needed before councillors could record their decision after a delay for advice from their legal team.

Fernhurst Conservative councillor John Slater spoke against the plans, which he said were ‘ill thought-through’. He said there was no need for the facility in the borough, quoting the council’s social services department, which said it had had not contact from Mr Pearse.

But Labour councillor Damian Talbot said this was irrelevant, adding: “I can see no planning reasons for this to be refused.”

Mr Pearse addressed the objectors in the audience and told them fears of dangerous residents being housed at the centre, which had been sparked by an anonymous letter sent to households, were unfounded.