Accommodation for adults with learning difficulties approved for former Washington school building

An old school building is set for a new lease of life as specialist accommodation for adults with learning difficulties, following a decision by city councillors.

Wednesday, 1st September 2021, 3:29 pm
Updated Wednesday, 1st September 2021, 3:35 pm

Sunderland City Council lodged a planning application with its own planning department earlier this year for the disused building off Albert Place in the Washington Central ward.

This included refurbishing and extending the building to form 15 ‘residential accommodation units with support.’

Planning documents from the council said the facility would provide a “safe environment for residents who may be transitioning toward independent living, but are still in need of some level of support services.”

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The former school building

Applicants said the accommodation would also cater for users in the medium or long-term and that it was “important for the design to allow a sense of ownership and familiarity to be gained by residents.”

They added that the proposed design would “respond sensitively to the historic structure [of the former school] while enhancing it with contemporary extensions that enclose a beautiful, landscaped communal courtyard promoting a sense of well-being for residents.”

Council planners recommended the application for approval at a meeting of the council’s Planning and Highways (West) Committee on Tuesday, August 31.

According to planning documents submitted with the application, the school was built in circa 1893 and was originally known as Biddick School before being renamed and later closing in 1993.

Planners confirmed that the site was most recently used by community groups but is currently vacant and has been for several years.

Although the change of use would represent the loss of a community facility, council planners said evidence had been provided to show that other community facilities exist in the area.

During discussion on the plans, councillor Len Lauchlan raised concerns about potential access issues for vehicles during the construction period.

But council officers, responding, confirmed that measures to ensure highway and pedestrian safety during the project, including access, would be finalised in a construction management plan.

Following debate, the planning application won unanimous support from councillors on the Planning and Highways (West) Committee.

Councillor Graeme Miller, vice-chair of the committee and leader of Sunderland City Council, welcomed the plans for the former school building, which he said were a much better option than demolishing the structure.

“What I’m very pleased about is that we’re not knocking it down,” Cllr Miller said.

“We’re taking a really smart old building that has delivered services into the community for a long long time and we’re now going to put specialist supported living accommodation in there for adults with learning disabilities and we have a need for that across the city.”

Cllr Miller added: “I’m delighted to see the building being brought into the 21st Century, given a new use and helping the community going forward.”

A report prepared for the committee also confirmed that the “scheme has been designed whereby it would have the potential to be adapted in the future to house elderly residents.”

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