A CONVICTED fraudster who claimed to be making a Hollywood blockbuster as part of a £2.8m tax scam is facing heavy opposition to his new plan to convert an Edwardian primary school building into a care hostel.

Members of the community in South Moor, near Stanley, have voiced concerns over Bashar Al-Issa’s plan to transform the former Greenland Community Infant School.

The 40-year-old property developer was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison after claiming he was making a £20m gangster film to claim tax credits and VAT repayments. Now he has taken out a 15-year lease on the school building and applied for planning permission for a 109-bed hostel with supported accommodation for vulnerable adults.

He has said it could house people with drug or alcohol problems or mental health issues as well as those dealing with unemployment or homelessness. Mr Al-Issa, who admits he made serious mistakes prior to his conviction, says he wants to give back to society by helping people experiencing personal difficulties, similar to those he met while serving his sentence.

The building, which opened in 1908, has stood empty for five years following the school’s move to new purpose-built facilities nearby.

News of the hostel application has been met with resistance by members of the community and civic leaders.

A Facebook group dedicated to fighting the proposal has been set up, with residents expressing concerns over community safety should the scheme be given the go ahead.

At a Stanley Town Council meeting on Monday night the leader, Councillor David Marshall said: “The council is united in its opposition to this proposal and will take all steps necessary to ensure that the wishes of the community are heard and this scheme does not go ahead.”

Mr Al-Issa is due to meet with planning officers as well as Durham county councillors Carole Hampson and Mark Davinson, who represent the area on the authority, on Wednesday morning at 10am.

Councillor Hampson said: “We both share residents’ concerns about this proposal.

“We are strongly opposed to this speculative application.

“The size and scale of the facility is not in keeping with the village and will impact on the lives of residents.

“We firmly believe the site should be demolished and developed for housing which would increase the choice for local families.

“We would encourage residents to engage with the planning process by raising objections and comments with the planning officer using the online form.”

North Durham MP Kevan Jones is also supporting the campaign to block the development. He said: “This speculative development is totally inappropriate for South Moor and for this part of Stanley.

“I support the two local county councillors in their objection and will work with them and with local residents to oppose the application in its current form.”

Mr Al-Issa, who was born in Iraq, moved to the UK in 1990 so his mother could study for a PhD in microbiology, and was sent to boarding school in Bath. He is now based in London, but in 2013 he was jailed for his role in a bogus film project.

He and four fellow conspirators duped tax inspectors for a year with fake scripts and documents, telling them Hollywood A-listers, including Jeremy Irons, would be starring in the production to be shot in the UK. The film, Landscape of Lives, was never made.

The gang tried to cover its tracks by shooting a low budget thriller, entitled Landscape of Lies, starring Loose Women host Andrea McLean and former EastEnders actor Marc Bannerman, which was released on DVD in 2011.

Mr Al-Issa has said his hostel plan will create six full time and ten part time jobs.

He said: “Some years ago, I made very serious mistakes claiming tax rebates I wasn’t entitled to and as a result paid some very serious consequences.

“I was taken from the comfortable life I had grown up in and locked up for several years. During this time, I had time to think hard what I had done, which I regret to this day, and about how I wanted to lead my life in the future.”

Mr Al-Issa served five years of his sentence, mostly at HMP Wandsworth in London.

He said: “In my time inside, I met groups of people who I didn’t know even existed, such were their problems ranging from mental, physical, emotional and dependency-related issues and found many were people who had been abused from the moment they were born.

“I thought that perhaps I could make amends to society by doing things to help individuals with real and extreme problems so that they might turn a corner and lead useful lives.”

Mr Al-Issa said he has lots of experience as a property developer and has built flats around the country.

He said he will look at other projects if he does not getting planning permission for his current proposal.

Mr Al-Issa said: “I do understand though that for the good people of South Moor, my proposal might appear disconcerting perhaps even alarming, for which I am sorry, as my aim was to have an establishment where the residents would integrate with the community.

“Clearly, I would not wish to bring any development that was unwelcome, as that would defeat the purpose of what I am trying to achieve.

“So I am currently taking advice and have reached out to local councillors for help to decide what the best use is for the development of this property.”

Durham County Council said the application will be determined at a later date.