In those far off mid-summer days, when the sun was shining and England had a manly test cricket team, this blog mused on the sudden and mysterious closure of the Park Tavern on Broadway North in the sleepy, picturesque village of Walsall. The mystery is now solved; the boozer is to become a granny farm.
Granny farming has become rather lucrative since both national and local government abandoned any responsibility for the care of senior citizens in their twilight years. Caring for pensioners is expensive and time consuming as they do tend to go on and on about how they defeated fascism, how they created the NHS, how they fought for employment rights, a decent education for their children and how much tax and national insurance they have paid since starting work in factories, mills and coal mines at the age of seven. No longer paying tax and now claiming state benefits; Derby and Joan are becoming something of a burden on an economy that requires greater profit margins and increased bonuses for bankers.
Fortunately, the private sector is more than willing to step in and provide care and support for Britain`s aging population and any profit accrued is incidental and accidental as the private sector cares only for the wellbeing and safety of the elderly “customer”. Motivated by charitable altruism, granny farming developers provide “retirement homes” to seniors who no longer wish to live alone, the recently bereaved and those in the unfortunate position of not being wanted by their children. In common with other burgeoning service industries, money can be made without the tiresome burden of regulation and it is perfectly legal for farmers to offer complex and one-sided part exchange deals under valuing family homes with the promise of an over-priced retirement apartment. Mentioning the “service charges” that seem to strangely increase as the services reduce would only confuse the old folk as would “solicitors fees” and the 24 help line that becomes an answer machine after six months and a number unobtainable tone after a year. It would be morally wrong to worry grieving widows with talk of “exit fees”, maintenance contracts and the poor re-sale value of retirement apartments after the occupier has moved on from God`s waiting room. Sign here for safety, security and companionship.
Obviously, the company wishing to knock down the Park Tavern would never be involved in such exploitation of the elderly. McCarthy and Stone are a reputable developer and are, indeed, Britain`s “leading” retirement home builder with granny farms all over the country. The Channel Four Dispatches documentary of 2012 was clearly a pack of lies and the disastrous libel action against the Daily Telegraph must have come about due to a simple misunderstanding. Being seriously in debt yet somehow managing to turn a considerable amount of profit is evidently the result of responsible and ethical trading. As the planning application from McCarthy and Stone states:
“This specialised form of housing provides the frail elderly with a better housing choice. It provides residents with safety, security and companionship and removes the heavy burden of property maintenance. Therefore, it reduces the anxieties and worries experienced by many elderly people living in accommodation that does not best suit their needs.”
Sign here to avoid waking up every day alone in a big, old, empty house that only contains fading memories.
The planning department of Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council consider the project to be a very good thing because, according to a supporting report from the head of planning Mr David Elsworthy:
“The use of the land for housing, specifically retirement housing would be particularly welcomed as this meets a specific housing need and would not result in town centre uses on the site.”
The report also points out that the proposed development is near to local amenities and is “adjacent to good public transport routes”. Now I might well be wrong but the last time I looked, the Park Tavern site is not on a bus route, the splendid local amenities are at the bottom of a hill that would make a Tour de France King of the Mountains quake and waiting to negotiate the pedestrian friendly Arboretum junction might try the patience of those with a finite amount of time left on the planet. There was once a pub there but that is another story.
It would appear that the head of planning is not the only one to be taken in by the hard sell of McCarthy and Stone. Walsall`s enigmatic Councillor Q is reported to be in favour of the scheme which comes as no surprise given his impeccable track record of maladministration and asset-stripping. Councillor Ian Shires displays all the backbone, courage and conviction we have come to expect from a Liberal Democrat by offering only a resigned shrug. The Advertiser`s Twitter feed reported him suggesting that it would be pointless to object to the proposal because it would only win at appeal. It`s good to see that the planning committee are so diligent in their scrutiny of the private sector and the LibDem leader will understandably be relieved that the site is not in his ward and that nowhere in the application do the words “mental health care” appear. The closure of the residential facility at the Broadway North Centre was shrugged through with the appeals of those that need it falling on deaf ears.
Councillor Shire`s comment is significant in that it suggests that members of the planning committee have little or no influence in the process of town planning. You may remember how the planning committee refused to give barking mad evangelist and Tory donor Robert Edmiston half of the park in Darlaston only to reverse the decision a few weeks later after being told in no uncertain terms by Councillor Q that their decision was wrong. Consider too the resident who built a humongous extension to his house without planning permission much to the annoyance of his neighbours and shouted in the street that he could build whatever he wanted because his cousin was on the planning committee. His cousin is still a councillor serving the people of his ward and the extension remains resolutely erect. Please don`t mention the Brush Garage in Shelfield to Councillor Q or ask of him the identities of the secretive businessmen who owned the listed buildings ravaged by arson attacks. It would also be a bad idea to mention the wonderful private sector “partners” that disappeared after it turned out that profit came before outsourced social care and it would be similarly unwise to recall the magnificent job that Serco did not do with our children`s education.
As with all open, transparent and honest decisions made by Walsall`s elected leaders, consultation is vital if responsibility is to be avoided. The consultation for McCarthy and Stone`s planning application was undertaken by a PR company that specialises in lobbying local authorities on behalf of property developers. A small sample of local residents had leaflets through their letter boxes inviting them to phone to arrange a one-to-one meeting with the PR firm representing the granny farmers. The sales pitch worked; 24 responses were received describing the development as “attractive” and some of the 24 asked for more details regarding the purchase of a safe, secure and companionable retirement property. Throw in some helpful reporting by the ludicrous Express and Swastika regarding anti-social behaviour associated with the former pub and we have a cast iron guaranteed “the people have spoken” moment.
To be fair, the former Park Tavern was a viper`s nest of ASB. Hooligans would go there to blatantly drink beer and shout “yes” at the shameless flat-screen TV on the rare occasions that England took a wicket or scored a boundary. It might be best to draw a veil over the attempted lynching during a tense “Quiz Nite” when one competitor was discovered accessing Wikipedia on a mobile device and the brawl that ensued when one of the two-for-one meals came with only one onion ring instead or two. The road rage in the car park when it was home time at the nearby private school was nothing short of disgraceful.
Fortunately, the evil den of iniquity is no more. Sadly, the car park rage has intensified as staff from the nearby private school take advantage of free parking on the vacant land. It`s always good to see a full car park outside an empty pub even if that will change with a replacement granny farm because, according to the planning application, people over the age of 60 are either unwilling or are incapable of driving a motor vehicle.
Thank goodness Walsall councillors recently voted almost unanimously to support and protect local pubs and to support and protect elderly people in need of social care. Time please, see your drinks off.