Controversial plans for a supported accommodation scheme in Washington are put on hold

The decision over a controversial council supported accommodation scheme has been delayed.

Sunderland City Council’s Planning and Highways Committee, at a meeting this week, agreed to defer a decision on proposals for The Sheiling, off Fatfield Road.

The local authority has been developing plans to convert the family property into a supported living development for “up to five single females”.

Documents submitted to council planning officials confirmed the service would be provided by the council’s “specialist partner” Changing Lives.

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The overall aim is to provide support to help residents “live safely in the scheme and gain skills to allow them to move on to living in their own property”.

It was also noted that service users were likely to remain in the scheme for around six months and that the property would be staffed 24/7 with up to three support staff members.

During a council consultation exercise on the plans, the scheme sparked public opposition with around 220 objections posted on the council’s planning portal website.

A range of concerns were raised including privacy, the suitability of the scheme’s location, anti-social behaviour, impact on house prices and increased traffic and noise.

Several objectors also raised concerns about safeguarding, given the property’s close proximity to schools, as well as wider criticism of the council’s approach to consultation on the plan.

A council officer report presented to the Planning and Highways Committee this week recommended the scheme for approval and provided more details on the people it would support.

This included single females aged 18-25 from a “range of backgrounds” who “find themselves homeless”.

Arguments for and against the proposals were put forward at a meeting of the council’s Planning and Highways Committee at City Hall on October 30, 2023.

Council planners said there had been no objection from Northumbria Police and that there was no “firm evidence” the scheme would lead to potential anti-social behaviour.

It was noted that crime and anti-social behaviour was not an “inevitable consequence” of multi-occupancy dwellings, and was a “question of individual behaviour and appropriate management”.

However, a number of public objectors spoke out against the proposals at the council meeting, with concerns raised about the loss of a family home and the “ambiguity” surrounding the operation of the proposed scheme.

It was noted that the “complex needs” of the scheme’s residents could result in anti-social behaviour, as well as potential highway safety issues from increased traffic linked to the development.

Decision-makers were also asked to consider the “overwhelming response” of local residents objecting to the proposal in the specific Washington location.

Another public objector, who said he had worked in a facility for individuals with “challenging behaviour”, questioned whether the property was suitable for supported accommodation.

This included the number of bedrooms proposed within the property, and some room sizes, as well as the available provision for vehicle parking and potential highway safety issues.

A representative from Sunderland City Council said the site had been deemed suitable by future provider Changing Lives and that site visits had been made by both council officers and the care provider.

It was also noted that internal alterations to the property would address concerns around the size of one of the bedrooms.

During discussion on the plans, several members of the Planning and Highways Committee said they had not visited the Washington site.

It was agreed to pause a decision on the application to allow councillors to visit The Sheiling before any ruling is made.

The site visit aims to give councillors a better understanding of both the building and traffic levels in the area at peak times.

According to a design and access statement prepared on behalf of the council, The Sheiling has most recently been a family home.

Planning documents confirm Sunderland City Council has been “in negotiations to buy the property, subject to obtaining planning permission” for a new use.

A decision on the planning application is expected to return to the next meeting of the Planning and Highways Committee later this month.

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