A council has approved plans for a 44-room bedsit in Kirk Hallam despite “fears of crime, thievery and pilfering”.
Members of Erewash Borough Council planning committe approved the plans to turn a former county council care home into a large bedsit complex at a meeting last week.
The plans from Burton-based Farrington Properties Limited, would see the former Hillcrest Home for Older People, in Kenilworth Drive, redeveloped into a 44-room bedsit – or HMO, house in multiple occupation.
The bedsit block would sit opposite Butterfly Castle Day Nursery.
Several residents near the former care home, which has been derelict for years, gave passionate speeches at last night’s meeting.
A petition signed by 313 residents calling for the scheme to be refused was submitted to the council at late notice at the meeting.
It called for the council to find an “alternative, more suitable use for the site, reducing the impact on the residents of Kirk Hallam”.
A former employee at Hillcrest for 26 years spoke at the meeting and she said: “I don’t disagree that Hillcrest has become an eyesore but it is an eyesore that is not causing any harm.
“This will have a negative impact on the elderly residents of Kenilworth Drive – their houses are everything to them, they are their sanctuaries.
“It will just be a halfway house full of people who don’t care about their community.”
Colin Haywood, who has lived near the site for 20 years, said that the area used to be a hotbed for crime and that things are finally back on track.
He said: “When we first moved here there was thieving, pilfering and vandal damage and eggs were thrown at houses – and you know the mess that causes.”
Mr Haywood said that the development could cause a return to “thieving and pilfering” and that he had “never seen such a hair-brained scheme such as this”.
Another resident said that there had never been access to the site from Hemlock Lane, which is the proposed main entrance route for vehicles.
She said that the route was cut off to pedestrians because it was being used as a shortcut.
The woman said that she had lived in the area for more than 50 years.
She said: “How often do you watch TV and hear about someone being beaten up or knifed in the back.
“Where are these residents from? Timbuktu? Why should we have them?”
Dominic Evans said that the Hemlock Lane access was “exceptionally small”.
He said: “If you parked on the road legally then the minibus that comes and picks people up two or three times a week wouldn’t be able to get by without illegally mounting the pavement.
“People would end up parking down the road and obstructing fire engines and ambulances.”
Anne Gamble, who lives near the site, said: “Transient residents would not integrate into the local community.
“There is a great potential for anti-social behaviour and it could have a severe effect on the area.”
She said that the proposed tenants of the new development would not be young professionals, may well have mental health issues and would be prone to anti-social behaviour, including drug use.
Claire Farrington, a director at Farrington Properties, said that the average age of tenants in their other HMOs is 35 and above, with an overall range of 18 to 70.
She says tenants are often workers who prefer to have a place close to their place of employment, along with people who have just had a relationship breakdown or need to support elderly parents nearby.
Ms Farrington said the development would have a full-time building manager – who has received glowing references from East Staffordshire Borough Council.
She said: “Developments like Hillcrest are increasingly seen as having a pivotal role in creating choice in the housing market.”
Ms Farrington said that a pre-emptive search to find tenants who might be interested found more than 50 people already looking for accommodation of this type – with all bills included in the rent – in the Kirk Hallam area.
Alastair Thornton, the agent for the applicants, said: “The development would add to the existing housing stock. It is the product of months of work with the council.
“The principle of development is widely acceptable and it is a sustainable reuse of an empty building.
“It has fallen into a state of disrepair and is a detriment to the area.
“The previous use of this location was residential which shows this is a wholly sustainable location.
“There can be no credible argument that this would have an adverse impact on the highways network.
“This would not be a halfway house and there is a demonstrated need.”
Coun Val Custance said: “I am worried that this is being overdeveloped with 44 properties.
“These are really going to be small rooms, which is ok if it is a care home and you only need your own room, but not if you are living there.”
Coun John Frudd said: “It is too over-intensive. You have got to be having a laugh. There were 24 beds in that care home and they are asking for 44. It cannot be justified.
“What is a planning issue is the fear of crime and this HMO will be very close to the Kirk Hallam shops and Kirk Hallam shops has been a hub of anti-social behaviour and crime for many, many years.
“Only through hard work from us and the safer neighbourhood team have we got it back to some sort of acceptable level now, but a few years ago it was out of control.
“I was laughed at a few years ago when I compared it to Railton Road which had been referred to as the front line of the riots in London in the 80s.
“But shortly after, I found myself following a trail of blood in the area and it was because someone had been attacked and nearly decapitated.
“People in this neighbourhood do have a fear of crime.”
Coun Howard Griffiths said: “Crime is an emotive issue but there is no evidence that a development of this type will lead to an increase or exacerbate crime in this area.
“Residents in Hemlock Lane do have a point though, that a better access would be from the other side of the site (close to Kenilworth Drive) which would stop a through-route being created to Hemlock.
“When a derelict building can be turned into homes for people and jobs for people and not be a blight on the neighbourhood, we cannot justify turning it down, I don’t buy into that.”
Councillors approved the plans by a vote of seven to five.
One resident yelled while leaving the council chamber: “You are disgusting the bloody lot of you. I am disgusted with you. You don’t have to live there, we do.”
The firm aims to split the former Derbyshire County Council care home into five “clusters” of bedrooms with a shared kitchen, dining area, bathroom and shower facilities in each cluster.
Eight of the bedrooms will have en-suite facilities and the bedrooms themselves would range from eight metres squared to 16.5 metres squared.
Each bedroom will be accessed independently and occupiers can make use of shared outdoor “amenity space” to the north west of the building.
A site office is also shown on the plans for management staff.
There would be a total of 13 parking spaces and spots for 40 bikes with access to the site off Hemlock Lane.