Concerns raised over housing plan for homeless people - because objectors fear area is too rough for them

New accommodation for people at risk of homelessness has been approved in County Durham – despite concerns from community leaders.

By Chris Binding
Friday, 12th March 2021, 6:41 pm
There are concerns former rough sleepers will not be safe.
There are concerns former rough sleepers will not be safe.

Earlier this week, Durham County Council planning chiefs discussed an application to convert a former health clinic off Front Street in the centre of Wheatley Hill.

This included creating five self-contained individual flats for the County Durham Lettings Agency, which forms part of the council’s Housing Solutions Team.

Council officers stressed the flats would be used for people at risk of homelessness as defined under the Housing Act (1985), which has a broader definition than just rough sleepers.

They added the flats would not be for people with complex needs or vulnerabilities, with other schemes available across the county to meet these needs.

During consultation, Wheatley Hill Parish Council objected to the application raising several issues, including the site location and ongoing anti-social behaviour in the area.

The parish council said the existing crime issues could have a negative effect on new tenants being placed in the area.

Concerns about the consultation process with neighbours were also raised, alongside suggestions that empty properties could be used as an alternative to converting the former health clinic.

The application was discussed at a meeting of the council’s Area Planning Committee (Central and East), which was held via videolink and broadcast on YouTube.

Councillor Jake Miller, chair of Wheatley Hill Parish Council, read a statement out on behalf of the parish council and residents who had objected.

He said: “We are by no means objecting to a homelessness provision in Wheatley Hill.

“There are a number of areas and streets where such provision would be better suited, somewhere quiet, somewhere with less anti-social behaviour problems and somewhere where former rough sleepers or those at risk of homelessness will be able to enjoy living.

“Listening to youths throwing stones through windows or at buses, vandalising shop fronts and houses and verbally abusing residents as they walk past is not an environment that I would consider enjoyable and is not somewhere where a former rough sleeper should be housed.”

Housing officer Marion Rucker, speaking in support of the plans, said the application aimed to meet a need for such homelessness accommodation in the east of the county.

She stressed that the flats would be managed effectively, with tenancies of up to three years allocated to adults, who would have regular visits and checks.

The council’s housing team would then work with tenants and social providers to find them long-term accommodation.

Trimdon and Thornley ward councillor, Lucy Hovvels, said a “conversation hadn’t taken place with the community of Wheatley Hill” and that a wider consultation should have been held.

She also raised concerns about housing vulnerable people at the specific site, given the existing anti-social behaviour issues in the area, and asked for the plans to be rejected on the grounds of “promoting healthier and safer communities.”

Planners, responding to comments on the consultation process, said they had gone “over and above what would normally be required in planning terms.”

Committee member councillor David Brown also noted anti-social behaviour and residential issues raised during the meeting and asked what grounds could potentially be used as a reason to refuse the application.

While council legal chiefs said anti-social behaviour and crime were potentially material planning considerations, they noted police did not support a refusal on these grounds.

As a result, councillors were told refusing the application for this reason may not be sustainable on appeal.

Following discussion, the committee agreed unanimously to approve the application.

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