PLANS to open a detox and addiction centre in a small village near Thornbury have been approved despite opposition. 

South Gloucestershire Council development management committee granted permission by 8-1 votes for the change of use of Beluga House on an industrial estate in Whale Wharf Lane, Littleton-upon-Severn, next to the estuary just north of the Severn Bridge.

The site was previously a children’s residential education activity centre and plans had been branded “muddled” and “legally dubious” by locals.

Up to 36 self-referring clients will receive private treatment at the centre and stay for about four to six weeks.

Planning officers said there would be no adverse impact despite the building’s location in the greenbelt and that vehicle movements would reduce from up to 338 a day expected for the existing use, which has never been put into place as there were “no takers” to run it, to just 40.

But 46 residents and Aust Parish Council objected with concerns including flooding, traffic, pedestrian safety and the prospect of people with a wide range of addictions, including drinking, gambling and pornography, roaming freely in the village – fears that officers refuted.

Parish councillor Julian Cooper told the meeting that the report to the committee was “muddled, legally dubious, contradictory and in places superficial”.

He said it lacked any details of how the centre would be run or a response to the “valid mental health issues raised by medical consultants”, including the potential for suicide risk.

Mr Cooper said: “There is no assessment as to whether this proposal is safe or secure either for patients or for residents.”

He said a planning barrister had advised the parish council that a condition of approval prohibiting the dual use of the site as both an education activity centre and a rehab clinic was “potentially unlawful and open to legal challenge”.

“This application demonstrates a lack of rigour, insufficient information, no proper operational description and an apparent refusal or inability to respond to simple and valid questions,” Mr Cooper told the meeting on Thursday, March 14.

“The parish council and residents’ view is to refuse this muddled and ill-considered application.”

Gazette Series: Aust parish councillor Julian Cooper speaking at the South Gloucestershire Council development management committee on Thursday, March 14, 2024 Aust parish councillor Julian Cooper speaking at the South Gloucestershire Council development management committee on Thursday, March 14, 2024

Ward Cllr Matthew Riddle (Conservative, Severn Vale) told councillors: “I’m still not convinced this is the right application and use for the site.

“It is unclear how the proposal will affect local people.

“The two big issues are flood risk and transport and there might be occasions when these overlap, for example when the road is flooded and people are trying to get out away from the flood or coming in to rescue people.

“Between Aust and Avonmouth, £80million is being spent to raise the height of the riverbank but nothing similar is planned between Aust and Sharpness, including the Littleton stretch.

“Traffic has always been an issue for the site and for local residents.

“The roads are narrow and rural with many places only single track with only a few passing places.

“It was chaos for local people the last time the site was operational, therefore the committee should take a very cautious approach and refuse the application.”

Gazette Series: The entrance to Beluga House near Littleton-upon-Severn The entrance to Beluga House near Littleton-upon-Severn

Chris Dance, planning agent for applicants River Reach, said: “Clients will have access under supervision to outside areas but would not be roaming into and around the village.

“This vacant, underused building is an ideal location for the laudable use applied for.

“It clearly needs to be brought back into beneficial use.

“We are all vulnerable. Whatever your background we can all suffer from addiction and health challenges and we need support and care for those types of facilities.”

The former office building has been vacant for 22 years.

South Gloucestershire Council development manager Marie Bath said the centre would not be a secure unit and there would be no referrals from the courts.

She told the committee: “Its intention is not to control dangerous individuals who pose a risk to the public.”

Ms Bath said the private clinic would be overseen by the Care Quality Commission, which had given the operators, who have not been named, a rating of “good”.

She said there were no objections from the local flooding authority or the Environment Agency and that a planning inspector who granted consent on appeal for the education activity centre in 2011 decided that approval should not be withheld because of flood risk.

“As the use of the site for over 300 children and 100 staff has been deemed acceptable in flood-risk terms, it is very difficult to argue that use of the site by up to 36 residents isn’t anything but better in terms of the impact in the event of a catastrophic flood.”

Council solicitor Tonya Meers said the condition to ensure the 1980s two-storey building could be used only as a detox centre was legally enforceable.

The plans include minor external alterations that officers said would enhance its appearance.

A total of 13 residents wrote in support of the application.