Campaigners lose children’s home fight

Coun. Barbara McClennan outside Oakwood House, Mowbray Road, Sunderland,  where plans to open as a youth hostel have angered local residents.
Coun. Barbara McClennan outside Oakwood House, Mowbray Road, Sunderland, where plans to open as a youth hostel have angered local residents.
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VULNERABLE children could be housed in the same building as criminals – after plans for a controversial new home were given the go-ahead in Sunderland.

An application to turn former Centrepoint base Oakwood House in Hendon into a house in multiple occupation (HMO), with a children’s home at the rear, has now been approved.

The main building will house adults with a criminal past or serious mental health problems, while the children’s home will cater for youngsters who have suffered physical or sexual abuse.

Residents objected to the plans and ward councillor Barbara McLennan addressed the South Sunderland development control committee about the concerns, but the committee approved the plans at a meeting last month.

Centrepoint ran a hostel on the site between 2008 and 2012, when there were numerous complaints of drug use, anti-social behaviour and people having sex in the street.

The new plans, submitted by Forever Care, involve a 15-bed house with an extension housing young people aged 12 to 17.

The application states: “The HMO tenants will be people from a range of different backgrounds, including people who have suffered a relationship break down, people in work, unemployed and retired.”

The company has said it will not accept adult tenants with addictions or a criminal record that has included serious violent crime, sexual offences and arson. The proposal also promises the two facilities will be separated by locked doors and staffed round the clock, while drugs and alcohol will be banned.

Coun McClennan said at the meeting: “There remains significant concerns over safeguarding in relation to a single building being used as both a children’s home and an HMO. We do not believe these issues are adequately addressed in the redesigning and layout of the children’s home, nor has the children’s wellbeing been fully considered.”

Addressing the committee, Coun McClennan argued that the planning authority could be seen to be negligent in its duty to protect the environment and amenity of residents if consent was granted.

Urging members to limit consent to two years if minded to grant the application, she added: “If permanent approval is granted there will be no future way of controlling the use under planning legislation, no matter what the effect on the environment.”

Her suggestion was proposed in a motion by Councillors Thomas Martin and Rosalind Copeland but it was defeated on vote.

Speaking after the meeting, Coun McClennan said: “Obviously, the residents and I are extremely disappointed with the committee’s decision, but councillors gave us a fair hearing and gave careful consideration to the views we expressed – as evidenced by the vote.

“I will now be working closely with Forever Care to ensure that they will be able to fulfil the ‘good neighbour’ promises made in their management plans and hopefully avoid any negative impact on the lives of the people living near Oakwood House.

“They know what the issues have been; they have a lot to prove, but I’m hopeful they will prove to be responsible neighbours.”