Plans to convert former Sunderland old folks home into student house

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ANGRY residents fear a former old people’s home could be turned into a hostel.

People living near Wearcourt nursing and care home, in Roker, are furious about plans to re-open the building as accommodation for 34 students.

Proposals by owner Dr David Ratliff for a change of use and Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licence at the home, which closed in August last year, have been rejected by Sunderland City Council.

The businessman has launched an appeal against last month’s decision by the planning committee to refuse the application.

Nearby residents have labelled the plans a “smoke screen” and collected nearly 60 signatures on a petition, which was handed to the council.

Retired lecturer Peter Ruddick, who has lived in nearby Rock Lodge Gardens for 27 years, said: “The landlord has inferred this application is for student accommodation only. However, this need not be the case.

“Just because a landlord is applying for student accommodation, it means he can fill the premises with anyone he deems suitable.

“A HMO literally means multiple occupation.”

People fear the former home could be used to house problem tenants, leading to a surge in antisocial behaviour.

Mr Ruddick, 68, added: “It is situated yards from the renowned St Andrew’s Church and the seafront, which is now benefitting from the council upgrading and investment.

“It is enjoyed by many thousands of visitors each year and they too will suffer.”

The University of Sunderland has also objected to the proposal, which first went before councillors in July.

Speaking on behalf of the University, Newcastle-based firm Signet Planning said it was too far for students to travel and Dr Ratliff’s plans to employ a warden and caretaker were not sustainable. Director Sandra Manson added that he “has not engaged with the university regarding the needs for student residential accommodation” which already had a surplus of places for students to live.

In his original application, Dr Ratliff, who calls himself “an experienced landlord”, said the property would comply with all the requirements of a HMO licence and he would be employing a warden to be on-call round the clock.

He aims to house post-graduate students and said he would operate a “three strikes and out” policy for bad behaviour.

He also rejected claims it would bring traffic congestion to the area.

When contacted by the Echo, he said: “I have heard the objections from the residents at the planning meeting and I completely support the professional planning department and their report and the planning officer and the Highways officer.

“We have launched an immediate appeal.”

Twitter: @janethejourno