MORE than 100 people signed a petition against proposals to turn a vacant solicitors' office on the residential outskirts of Blackburn town centre into a rehab unit for mental health patients.

A planning application was submitted to turn Oakfield House in Preston New Road, Blackburn, into a halfway house for 30 men and women coming out of secure psychiatric services.

But nearby residents voiced their concerns over the development and their petition will be received by Blackburn with Darwen Council’s planning and highways committee when it meets on Thursday.

Their fears will be considered before a decision whether the development can go ahead is taken.

They say the area is saturated with similar establishments and are worried about the 24 hour use.

It is also claimed the development is out of character with the conservation area and will lead to parking problems as well as loss of privacy.

The new unit would be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week with 16 medical and mental health professionals, nurses, cooks and cleaners.

Applicant ASC Healthcare says in documents submitted to Blackburn with Darwen Council planners: “Oakfield House open rehabilitation unit will provide a safe and nurturing environment for local males and females with complex and often enduring mental illness and learning disabilities who may have stepped down from secure services or other rehabilitation services.”

The existing semi-detached Victorian building has a four-storey frontage with a six-storey rear tower with two below-ground level basement floors. The tower will have a lift.

The application proposes works including alterations and the full internal refurbishment, with a single-storey extension to the front of the building incorporating a new main entrance.

The documents say: “Oakfield House provides opportunity for a patient pathway for those who have been identified with a need for further rehabilitation.

“Referrals are received locally from acute in-patient mental health services, community mental health teams, low-secure services and the Individual Packages of Care team for patients deemed suitable for stepping down from locked rehabilitation or similar.”

It will accommodate 30 men and women aged from 18 to 65 in three nine-bedded units and three 'step-down' individual apartments.