A Council committee has given the green light for a five-storey 20-bed hostel facility for the homeless to be built at Trostan Avenue in the town.
Planners recommended approval of an application by Triangle Housing for the demolition of the former Old People’s Club to make way for the residential premises including communal/staff facilities and associated site works.
That recommendation was passed on Thursday by Mid & East Antrim Council’s Planning Committee despite appeals from objectors on the day over the application which had also attracted 50 letters of objection.
The proposed premises will provide new accommodation for Simon Community NI supported housing services which currently operate at Mill House, Harryville.
First to speak out in opposition to the plan, MLA Paul Frew said the proposed premises would be sited “a road’s width away” from residential properties.
He said the local community were “very worried about the outcome of this planning proposal” and were particularly concerned about “the safety aspect and rising crime levels” and he claimed that Freedom of Information (FOI) requests “have shown crime increase with establishments of this kind”.
“The Simon Community will do great work within their establishment but will not be able to control crime levels,” Mr Frew stated.
Seeking members to either refuse or defer the application, he said: “This is all about placement. Nobody here is saying a hostel shouldn’t exist - it does vital work. It is where we place it. I believe this is simply the wrong place.”
Speaking on behalf of residents, Stephen Lynn said they were concerned over numerous aspects of what he described “an unsympathetic housing scheme” and “an overdevelopment”, including privacy, overlooking and transport and were also concerned over the “potential for anti-social behaviour”.
Also addressing the committee was David McCann, Director of Pastoral Care at Castle Tower School.
Mr McCann said he had huge admiration for the Simon Community and Triangle Housing but pointed out that the new Castle Tower would be built close to the proposed hostel in 2017 to facilitate “up to 300 young people with various challenges to their learning”.
“School,” he said, “is a safe place for them.”
Mr McCann said the new school will give students the opportunity to access the town centre but to do that they would have to pass the proposed hostel, adding that under FOI requests, “between 2011-2014, there were a total of 205 call-outs in the vicinity of the existing (hostel) facility”.
He said that while he was not suggesting that all of those call-outs were related to the hostel, there was concern that “students may have to pass such incidents or be aware of them”.
However, a planning officer stated that “there is nothing to sustain a refusal” and that consultation with Transport NI, the Environmental Health Department and the NI Environment Agency had not identified any issues that could not be overcome by planning conditions.
Barry Dallat of Triangle Housing said the new hostel would be built to the highest safety standards and was aimed at giving homeless people “a better quality of life”.
Patrick McGettigan of The Simon Community said he was “disappointed” to hear “the automatic assumption that crime will come to come to the area”.
“There is no evidence to suggest that is the case,” said Mr McGettigan.
He further stated that the hostel would have 10 members of staff plus a manager and would be staffed 24hours per day, seven days per week throughout the year.