Residents' outrage at 'lack of consultation' for proposed housing for homeless youngsters in East Street, Epsom
Angry residents are demanding their voices be heard after condemning the consultation process for a proposed housing development for homeless youngsters as a "disgrace".
Sanctuary Supported Living (SSL), a branch of housing provider Sanctuary Group, submitted a planning application to Epsom Council on December 12, for a "young persons’ support and accommodation facility" in East Street, Epsom.
Vacant office building, Shaftesbury House, would be demolished to create 45 single-person flats, with the young residents being provided with "training and support to enable them to secure future employment opportunities".
Councillors will decide on the development next Thursday, March 14.
But concerned residents believe the development would increase crime, anti-social behaviour, noise and disruption, create traffic and parking implications, and decrease property values in the area.
They fear the proposal is being quietly waved through and insist the developers have not adequately engaged with those living nearby.
- Not enough time has been spent consulting with residents
- Only a small number of residents were informed of an open day on the plans held at the Ebbisham Centre in November, contrary to what is claimed by Sanctuary Group
- Basic questions on the development were unanswered at the open day including whether crime and anti-social behaviour has increased around other such facilities
- Epsom Council’s engagement with residents has been limited
Addressing residents’ worries in January, Stuart Kitchenside, SSL area service manager, defended the £5m development, saying it was not a "homeless shelter" for "people coming off the streets" and that it would only house youngsters looking to better their situations, from Epsom and Ewell.
But one resident said: "The developer’s consultants submitted a 41-page Statement of Community Engagement in order to give the process a veneer of acceptability, so late in the process it will not be seen or questioned by most local residents.
"It adds insult to injury for local residents who have been treated as obstacles to overcome or avoided."
A petition against the development, led by the East Street Residents’ Group, was started in January and it is claimed now has 300 signatures.
Ciaran Fox, a member of the group, said its biggest challenge has been the "limited amount of time to raise awareness of the development".
But Andrew White, director of development for Sanctuary, said residents have been adequately consulted.
He said: "We spoke to a number of individuals and organisations ahead of submitting the planning application, including writing to 165 local households to invite them to a drop in session, which about 30 people attended, and we adjusted our plans based on their feedback.
"The council’s planning application consultation has had around 150 responses, a very healthy number, which to us is a sign that the process is working as it should.
"Through the planning application process we’ve seen a number of residents raise concerns that having a supported housing service for young people in Epsom may lead to an increase in anti-social behaviour, drug abuse, and other crime but we want to reassure them that our plans are to create a facility aimed at motivated local young people who need a bit of extra help to work towards independence.
"This would include guidance on finances and life skills, and supporting them with education, training and employment opportunities."
A council spokesman said notices were displayed and an advertisement placed in the Epsom Guardian to publicise the proposed development. He said letters were sent to 138 residents in December.
He said: "As of the end of February, 79 letters of objection, as well as a petition with 85 signatories, have been received however a lot of these specify an objection to a 'homeless shelter'.
"Although the public consultation has formally ended, the council will still consider residents views submitted before March 14."
WHAT THE CAMAIGNERS SAY:
"To the frustration of many local residents it appears that the local councillors are not representing the views of the residents they are meant to represent and are instead looking after the interests of Sanctuary Group."
"Epsom Council need to show some regard for us honest, hard-working people instead of greedy developers who are out to make millions at our expense.
"Our concern is that the development will have a detrimental effect, not just on our lives, but the whole of Epsom."
"There is a real and genuine fear in the local community about the impact on our quality of life.
"All evidence of crime figures demonstrates that developments of this nature become magnets for anti-social behaviour and crime.
"We are struggling to have a voice as under planning law this is not apparently a consideration. This is devastating news for the local community who worry about their safety of their families and businesses."
"Residents can only hope that the councillors will recognise the severe disadvantage of residents in this process and look beyond the spin, misrepresentation and refusals to address key issues, to address the many valid objections of people who were not deemed worthy of consultation."