Expensive delays to children’s home due to protection of bats

NEW homes for Portsmouth care leavers went thousands of pounds over budget and were delayed over fears for the safety of bats, it has been revealed.

Friday, 8th March 2019, 10:29 am
Updated Friday, 8th March 2019, 11:30 am
A Pipistrelle bat. Picture credit: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire

The £495,000 refurbishment and extension of a council-owned children’s home in Copnor was held up by two months and cost an additional £7,000 after a survey found the habitat of bats could be at risk.

To provide homes for young people leaving the care home the council approved the redevelopment of two Victorian houses on the site that had previously been used as office space.

The home itself was then refurbished to improve facilities and include new offices.

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Extra delays and costs were also accrued when it was noted that a wall and section of roof on the two-bedroom homes was unstable, meaning planning permission was required at another cost of £1,000. The project was set back an extra five months because of this.

For Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for children, Councillor Rob Wood, the delay was ‘frustrating’ but necessary. ‘Sometimes in these situations it is difficult to know whether to put wildlife or people first,’ he said.

‘This was a compromise. It was important to know that the bats were safe, although it was frustrating.’

Since the site’s recent completion the new homes will be able to accommodate four young adults, adding to the six bedrooms in the children’s home.

The additional £7,000 was needed for the bat survey and for a consultant to be on site during the construction process. During building works no bats were actually found in the homes although bat poo in the roof proved there had been previously.

By providing a ‘stepping stone’ home it is thought young adults leaving care can feel more supported while gaining independence.

Cllr Wood added: ‘The refurbishment of the children’s home and the conversion of the adjoining building into two flats will greatly benefit young people who are looked after by the city council.

‘This is one example that shows how the council is acting as a proud and responsible corporate parent to enhance support for care-experienced young people in the city.

‘It is about us understanding that it is a bit of a journey for children when they leave home. We need to make sure they “don’t fall of the cliff.” It is about doing the right thing.’

It comes after a report showed that the council was expected to overspend by a total of £7m on the revenue budget of children and families by the end of the 2018/19 financial year, however, this was accounted for in the most recent budget. £6.4m of this was for looked after children.

Capital spending, which includes the Copnor children’s home, is not expected to have gone over its £2.6m budget this year.