Plans to build housing for homeless youngters in Epsom town centre approved by councillors
A £5m plan to build housing for homeless youngsters, which residents have slammed as a "cocktail for disaster", was approved by councillors yesterday.
Epsom Council’s planning committee voted 7-4 in favour of an application by Sanctuary Supported Living to build a "young persons’ support and accommodation facility" in East Street, Epsom.
Vacant office building Shaftesbury House will be demolished and redeveloped to create 45 single-person flats, for youngsters aged 16 to 25 who are homeless or in need of housing in Epsom and Ewell and who want to turn their lives around with the help of training and support.
Computer-generated images of the finished development were presented at the meeting, showing it would have a modern, young person’s feel with a coloured facade, consisting of red brick and white, green, blue and red panelling.
Worried residents have said the development would have a negative impact on the community - including creating anti-social behaviour, noise and disruption, causing traffic and parking problems, and decreasing property values in the area, and have questioned the amount of public consultation conducted by Sanctuary.
The result of the vote was met with a stony silence in the council chamber’s public gallery.
In a lively debate, councillors considered the four main issues raised by the application - loss of employment land; the design of the proposed development; concerns of crime, safety and anti-social behaviour; and parking access and traffic.
Councillor Anna Jones: "There is a real problem with empty office building space in the area.
"It would be marvellous if someone like Saga or Bupa took them but they are just not going to do that."
She added: "We must not clutch at straws.
"We can’t use the design as a reason to refuse something because we don’t like the whole project.
"There is no distinct style in East Street, it’s uninteresting and grotty. It’s quite a brave design for Epsom and it would be a landmark."
But Councillor Ian Booker asked "what’s driving the need for this 45-room development?"
Councillor Clive Smitheram said the planning committee faced a "massive dilemma".
He said: "We know there is a need for housing in the borough.
"We all need to start somewhere and there are people who need a leg-up who need a start in life and they need to be supported."
Councillor David Wood added: "We haven’t had a recession this bad in 80 years and it won’t go on forever, and if we give up our office space we won’t have places for employment in the borough in five or six years’ time."
Councillor Mike Teasdale said: "It will be an advantage to East Street, there isn’t anything else there which makes you smile and I think it’s design is acceptable in 2013."
Councillor Sheila Carlson said she had been "saddened" by the comments made about the proposed development.
She said: "There have been an awful lot of comments and there is a perception that it will lead to crime and anti-social behaviour. Some of it I find particularly worrying and appalling.
"If the youngsters show any signs of anti-social behaviour their tenancy will be in jeopardy.
"Just because it will have young people in it that will not automatically mean they will be drug addicts and hooligans.
"It isn’t the case that people living in this development will be any more likely to show signs of drug and drink problems than young people at university campuses or any other areas with young people.
"The perceptions that it will cause trouble are erroneous and I was very saddened to hear people feel that way."