Anger as plans for new YMCA in Sunderland are approved despite thousands of objections

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Controversial plans to open a new YMCA hostel in Silksworth have been given the go-ahead despite thousands of objections.

YMCA Wearside aimed to provide a eight-bed facility at the former Church View Medical Centre for young people aged between 16-21.

Since plans were announced however, the ‘No Way To The YMCA’ campaign has gained traction, with several protest marches over anti-social behaviour fears.

On Monday, (March 4), Sunderland City Council’s area Development Control Sub-Committee were split over the plans, with several councillors raising concerns.

This included the suitability of the building, anti-social behaviour fears, strong public opposition and claims the proposals conflicted with planning policies.

As the plans were approved with a majority vote at Sunderland Civic Centre, outbursts could be heard from the public gallery of “the gates open”, “disgrace” and “you never listen to the people”.

Wearside YMCA bosses previously stated the plans will support care leavers to “rebuild their lives and move back into the community”.

The meeting heard the centre would provide 24-hour supervision and support from a rota of housing workers and care staff.

And before opening, applicants also need to apply for a seperate house in multiple occupation (HMO) licence covering security, management and plans to prevent anti-social behaviour.

Church View Medical Centre closed in September 2017 with the previous owner “gifting” the building to the YMCA with an aim of supporting Sunderland’s young people, a council report states.

Silksworth councillors, Peter Gibson and Phil Tye, called for the plans to be rejected as guest speakers, raising a raft of concerns.

Coun Phil Tye said it was “blindingly obvious that there is a need for additional medical facilities” in the area.

The need, he argued, was reflected by  Sunderland’s Clinical Commissioning Group looking for  for £81,900 as part of a Section 106 legal agreement – a bid knocked back by planning officers.

Coun Pat Smith, who also represents the Silksworth ward,  criticised the lack of consultation around the plans.

“The fact is that the people in Silksworth don’t want it and they haven’t been given the chance to say so,” she said.

Coun Alex Scullion, who represents the Houghton ward, spoke in support of the plans in his capacity as chairman of YMCA Wearside.

“The proposal will provide a safe and comfortable home for young people who through no fault of their own would be homeless were it not for YMCA and other providers,” he said.

“It is not and was never intended to house high-risk adults, as was suggested by objectors in the first place, it is simply intended to provide the nearest equivalent of a family home for eight young people.

“The difference is the parents, or the people who look after them, are caring and understanding professionals who are always present to look after their family of eight.”

He also said the CCTV and door entry systems would be available at the site and if approved, the YMCA would be keen to forge links with the Silksworth community.

A report, drafted by planning officers, states no objections were lodged from police from a “crime prevention point of view”.

It concludes :“It is considered that it cannot be reasonably concluded

that the use would inevitably result in an increase in noise, disturbance, crime and anti-social behaviour or impact on the character or amenity of the area.”

But Coun Amy Wilson said evidence from YMCA supported housing in Sunderland demonstrated anti-social behaviour issues creating a “significant demand on police resources”.

She added approving the plans would “undermine efforts by partners to manage residents’ unhappiness” and affect “community cohesion” in Silksworth.

A formal bid to reject the application by Coun Wilson was also voted down by the committee with the plans pushed through by a majority vote.

Any future ‘change of use’ bids for a bail hostel or young offender institution at the site would also require separate planning permission.

Silksworth resident, Carolyn Straughan, speaking ahead of the meeting, raised  said the centre was in the “wrong place.”

“It’s next to a school and health centre that a lot of people have to get to,” she said.

“We don’t need people terrified to go past the building to get to the doctors because it will happen”.

Protestor, Margaret Steele, also said: “I’m not stereotyping them but it’s the type of people they are and the type of people they attract.

“You can’t tell me that there’s not going to be trouble because I wouldn’t believe it.”

Caption: Former Church View Medical Centre in Silksworth Picture: Google

Caption: ‘No Way to the YMCA’ protesters outside Sunderland Civic Centre, March 4, 2019

Caption: ‘No Way to the YMCA’ protesters in council chamber at Sunderland Civic Centre, March 4 2019

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service