Date set for Fort William care home inquiry

THE stage has been set for a public inquiry into a controversial Lochaber care home plan. The first step towards resolving the wrangle over a proposed 90-bed privately-operated home at Fort William were taken last Wednesday when the groundwork was laid for the inquiry.

Apollo Capital Projects and KGS Care already have permission for a 60-bed unit on a site at Camaghael, next to the Fort William Health Centre.

On Tuesday, detailed plans for the 60-bed home were approved by Highland Council’s Ross, Skye and Lochaber planning committee – despite attempts by Lochaber members to have the application deferred until after the public inquiry process is completed.

The developers want to extend the facility by adding space for a further 30 beds – a move which has failed to find favour amongst Lochaber councillors, GPs and social service managers.

The planning committee refused consent for the increase in beds in July last year and an appeal was lodged with the Scottish Government.

This will now be heard at a three-day local public inquiry starting on March 24 at the council’s Lochaber House chamber in Fort William.

The date was fixed at a preliminary meeting of interested parties and representatives of Holyrood’s directorate for planning and environmental appeals last Wednesday in Fort William. Among those listed to give evidence are Lochaber councillors Donald Cameron and Provost Allan Henderson. Councillor Bren Gormley, in his role as chairman of the local community health forum will also speak to the inquiry.

Health professionals from the Fort William Health Centre, with community representatives, are also listed to air their views to an inquiry reporter.

KGS Care and Apollo say the larger 90-bed unit would represent a £6 million investment in Lochaber economy and would create up to 110 jobs.

But the planning committee voted six-four to reject the application, despite officers’ recommendations for conditional approval. Councillors, supported by arguments from the authority’s own social work bosses, said the 90-bed home would place unacceptable demands on existing health and social services in the Fort William area.

The developers’ research findings on local need were also described as flawed and as “back-of-the-envelope calculations”.

The proposed development is less than a mile away from a site at Ardgour Road, Caol, where Highland Council has plans for a 30-bed mixed care and nursing home that would replace the existing 24-bed unit at Invernevis House in Fort William.

Ross, Skye and Lochaber planning committee, meeting at Fort William, gave the green light to the proposal, submitted by the local authority’s own housing and social work service, for the 30-bed mixed care and nursing home at Ardgour Road, Caol.

The one-storey unit on the site of the former BMX tracks will include day care facilities for an extra 15 people.

Thirty-one car parking spaces and a secure courtyard with clear views to Ben Nevis will be created.

The care home is one of five proposed across the Highland region by the council at a total cost of £30 million.

However, there was controversy in December when councillors voted to defer the tendering process by three months for all five homes to allow a “business case review” to be carried out.

This review is expected to be completed by the end of March. Some councillors and care home campaigners see the delay as a precursor to a complete scrapping of the project which is a key manifesto pledge of Highland Council’s ruling coalition administration.